Recently I found myself in a strange new situation. A parent approached me about my child’s behaviour. He told me that my daughter had pushed his daughter in ballet class and now his daughter no longer felt comfortable being in the class. ‘I’m just sayin’, he said. ‘It is what it is.’ To say I was absolutely gobsmacked would be an understatement. I stood there in the tiny playroom, Tallula on my hip, leaning backwards, trying to get my attention. A good friend of mine waiting for this all to be over. Me too. I didn’t know what to say. I was completely caught off guard. I had just been stopped by a young woman who I found out later was the program and class coordinator, who mentioned there had been a small pushing incident in class and without the assistant there today the teacher really wasn’t able to address it. My question would have been, how do you address this behaviour? To find out if it is the same way that we do. But I had to run to get Tallula, who was now the last one in class waiting to be picked up.
In my recent monthly letter to Tallula, I mentioned that we’ve been working on ‘gentle hands only’. In our Tuesday playgroup she’s been pushing some of the younger girls when she doesn’t want them near her or doesn’t want to share. The teacher assures me this is typical toddler behaviour. Since Sebastian isn’t physically capable of such behaviours, this is all new territory. Our teacher said the best way to work through the behaviour is to immediately step in and exhibit kind and gentle hands and make sure the other child is ok, modelling this behaviour for Tallula and reminding her rather than ‘no pushing, etc.’ So this is what we’ve been doing and she’s definitely learning that pushing isn’t ok, that it makes others sad. Though she continues to do it in some circumstances she’s realizing that it’s not ok and I feel like she’s trying hard to regulate.
I phoned the play centre where we have the class and spoke to the program coordinator because I wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page with how to encourage safe and positive play. I explained what we were doing at our other play group and mentioned it’s a child development program, and somehow she thought I said it was a behaviour program implying that we are trying to ‘fix’ Tallula’s behaviour. I still felt uneasy when we hung up. One thing she said which stuck with me was how they don’t train their staff so everyone brings something different to the mix. I read that as, anyone could react in any way to her pushing. I want to make sure it is positive. I also wasn’t keen when she mentioned consequences such as ‘no sticker if you push in class’. Surely I would prefer my daughter to learn that pushing doesn’t make others feel good rather than, if you don’t push, you get a sticker. I mean at age 2.5, stickers are pretty important. (Refusing to submerge hand in the bathtub before bedtime ring a bell for anyone?)
There’s also this thing about Tallula. She’s absolutely the most caring kid I know. She’s gentle with her dolls, holding and kissing them. Wrapping them up and making them ‘nice and cosy’ for bedtime. One only needs to look at her with her brother to see the unbreakable bond created by two extremely loving kiddos. She also always helps out the kids that need it. So for me, I was struggling with this behaviour too because I didn’t understand where it came from and these two people absolutely wanted me to feel like she was a ‘bad’ kid which I know absolutely she is not.
And guess what?! They were totally in the wrong. Because pushing, hitting, and biting is TYPICAL TODDLER BEHAVIOUR. That doesn’t mean that all toddlers will do it. But it means that those that do do it, do it for a reason and it’s our job as adults to help them learn to express themselves in different ways. How I wish the program coordinator would have taken this approach with the father and even with myself. I read three articles that gave me fuel for my fire and also made me feel like most certainly the situation hadn’t been handled properly.
Aggressive Behaviour in Toddlers was the one I found most extensive and helpful. It mentioned watching for stressors that contribute to the behaviour. Is she tired? Overwhelmed? It talked about the consistency of using both actions coupled with words. Such as exhibiting a gentle touch when saying gentle hands with our friends. It also mentioned repetition. And that it takes a while.
I know Tallula is starting to think about it and process it but sometimes she just can’t help it. Which the article mentions too. We talk about different ways to deal with our frustration and anger and why sharing is good. We take deeps breaths; we even take breaks together instead of time outs. And we read a lot of books. I have many from my teaching days that talk about feelings and also when I taught conflict resolution. Her favorite right now is ‘Sophie’s Grumpy’ (When Sophie Gets Angry, Really Really Angry). She will retell you the story without even looking through the book.
I’m not worried that Tallula won’t learn how to regulate her emotions and stop pushing others. I don’t think she’s a bully. I think she’s a toddler learning how to navigate in the world. Despite a vocabulary that I think is extremely impressive, she’s still not quite there with the ability to fully express herself verbally. (I know adults that still can’t do that.)
I thought about why I was so upset after the confrontation with the dad. And it didn’t have anything to do with Tallula. It had to do with the parents. It has to do with the parents. The ones that shuffle their kid away instead of staying to deal, work through, and teach our children how to get along. It has to do with the parents that don’t know that pushing can be typical behaviour and it’s up to us to teach or kids how to stop those behaviours, together. And it has to do with the staff that also don’t know child development well enough to explain it to a parent that voices a concern.
As parents we want to protect our children. But we also want to help them grow. And learn. And for me, maybe this space with parents navigating their child’s every move just ain’t for