As we move into the chilly winter months, with our fast-growing Pips holed up inside together more often, we want to send you all some helpful information about the challenging behaviors we anticipate for our toddler and pre-toddler friends.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is to remember that actions such as hitting, kicking, and biting are 100% normal for children at this stage in their development. As children grow in their gross motor skills, as well as in their social interactions with peers, it is completely typical to see them experimenting with becoming more physical with their friends. Often, this is an exploration of their strength and their bodies' abilities -"What will happen if I push this friend, and do I have the strength to? What will my friend's reaction be if I take this toy out of their hands?" Other times, children's physical actions signal a need or a message that they are trying to communicate: "I dont' feel safe with this person near me and I want space! I was using that toy and I want it back in my hands! That friend is really loud and it hurts my ears, and maybe if I hit them they will stop!" Rest assured, the physical action is stemming from a curiosity or powerful emotion, and that children are not "being mean".
With that being said, it can be alarming and frustrating to see these sorts of actions increase in your child, and sometimes it's hard knowing what to do. At Green Apple, we look at the actions with a question in mind: "What is the message this child is trying to send me?" Sometimes, the message is that "I'm hungry" or "I'm tired." Other times, the message is "I'm exploring my physical strength, and I need you to give me a safer way of doing so." For example, if a friend is pushing other friends down, we might give them a wagon full of heavy rocks or logs to push. Perhaps the most frustrating message from an adult perspective is when a friend is telling us, "I am exploring where the boundaries are, and I need you to keep showing them to me." We see this when a child continues to make an unsafe choice, and it's helpful to think at it from a standpoint of "This child needs me to keep the boundary for them so he knows that the same expectation holds true in this space each time, and he can feel safe and secure."
In these situations, we always comfort and soothe a child who may have been hurt, and involve the friend who was physical in that process, such as coming with us to the kitchen to get an icepack, and having them nearby as we check on the hurt friend so they can see the empathy we are modeling. In other situations, we may let two friends explore being physical with one another if they are not hurting each other, and stay nearby to step in with gentle guidance if it is needed. We hesitate to intervene too early on, because so often these young friends surprise us with their own conflict resolution skills.
We encourage you to support your toddlers during these hard times, with the understanding that this is normal, and that it's healthier to think more along the lines of "How can I help my child process these physical feelings?" instead of "I NEED to get them to stop hitting/etc.!" I'll end this message with a couple of great resources from Hand in Hand parenting, a website chock full of tools related to peaceful parenting and nonviolent communication.