My toddler will be a year and half on July 29th. She's an inccocent-looking, sweet curly-haired blonde who babbles at everyone while talking with her hands. She looks cute and harmless. And she to almost everyone. But for me, when I least expect it...SLAP! Right across the face! You wouldn't think those little hands would hurt so much.
Rarely does she smack when she's mad or frustrated. When she has a tantrum (which are just now starting) she's more of a throw herself on the ground in tears kind of girl. When she hits it is completely random. Once when I asked for a hug she embraced me with her little arm and leaned her head into my chest the way she usuually does. It was the first time she wrapped her arm around me instead of just leaning so it was a very special moment. As I sat there basking in the afterglow of the first real hug from my daughter then....SLAP! She whacks me right in the face.
I'm not sure where she learned it. I don't ever spank or hit my kids. Her siblings don't hit each other. They'd much rather verbally spar. She doesn't see violent tv shows. She doesn't seem angry or aggressive when she hits. Sometimes she's actually wearing an impish smile when she does it.
So I did some research on different ways to get her to stop.
First I tried just firmly telling her "No hitting!." When I did that she looked at me and repeated no while shaking her head. It usually got her to stop but I'd prefer her not to hit to begin with.
I found the suggestion of holding her arm and telling her no hitting. I tried this a few times but I felt like it was doing more harm than good. I saw how it would work if my daughter was hitting out of anger or frustration, but because she wasn't it felt like I was responding more aggressively then I really needed to be. I wanted something more gentle. Time outs aren't yet an option because she's still too little to understand what she's getting time out for.
Considering I wanted a method of gentle discipline it came as no surprise to find the answers I was looking for at Ask Dr Sears. Dr. Sears says, "These early nips and slaps, as awful as they look and feel, are playful communications, not aggressive, disrespectful conduct." Even though this behavior isn't aggressive yet, if it's not stopped it can grow into aggressive behavior. Redirect face-slapping into another acceptable action such as "giving five."
To my shock this worked! As soon as I saw her raising her little arm ready to strike I would put out my hand and ask her to "Give me five!" Instead of slapping my face, she would slap my hand. Unfortunately that only worked when I could catch the slap in time.
There were still times when I couldn't catch her before she hit. Dr. Sears suggests keeping track of when your toddler is hitting and see if you can find a pattern. When I did this I realized I was always doing something while trying to pay attention to her. I was on the computer or reading a book. If I set the laptop or book aside and gave her my full attention the slaps would never come. Her slaps were her way of saying "Pay attention to me!"
I'm really happy I took the time to research gentle discipline ideas and decided to use them instead of just traditional discipline. It's given me the confidence that I don't always have to follow the "norm" and would much rather find a more gentle, creative way of approaching the problem. In this particular situation, it made me realize that it was my own behavior causing the problem in the first place! If I was busy holding down her arm while scolding her I may not have realized what was prompting her to hit. From now on I will make more of an effort to step back and try to figure out what is causing my kids misbehavior rather than just trying to fix it.