Posts tagged ‘hitting’

Right Under our Noses

I don’t talk a lot about Feeleez, our line of empathy tools. It’s funny because almost daily I print out labels and Nathan scoots off to shoot Feeleez packages off to excited customers. Kris and I talk business talk at the park while our children shovel sand, and we have big hopes and dreams for this little seed we are watering. In fact this very blog was started as a place to discuss Feeleez news and triumphs, yet I almost never mention them at all. In fact, even though Feeleez forms the fabric of our lives I even forget to use them as tools in my own parenting. Maybe it’s the case of the bookkeeper’s own checkbook remaining unbalanced, the therapists own relationships continuing disastrously, or the housekeepers own house staying perpetually messy, I’m not sure. But in any case I used Feeleez last night for conflict resolution and felt like a doofus for passing our poster by so many times, for not using it for all it’s worth, for not employing it ten thousand times a day.

Nathan is a thespian, so he has been away during the evenings this week rehearsing for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I have been holding down the fort. So you can imagine the scene at seven-fifteen last night. Three tired girls, dirty from a day at the corn maze, and frayed at the edges from non-stop sister dynamics. A sink piled high with dishes. A mama working feverishly against the clock so that when things went downhill she could usher them toward tooth-brushing and story reading and later when she emerged from the sleep-filled bedroom she wouldn’t still face that ugly mountain of pots and pans. In other words, the perfect scenario for a scrap and the perfect scenario for Mama to yell and fail miserably at gentle parenting.

And so it went. In their last-ditch efforts to squeeze every last drop of fun from the day Bella and Xi flitted about from one game to the next, finally settling on drawing. But when Xi slid a piece of paper out of the pile she hit Bella in the arm. Bella was pissed, yelled. Xi yelled back, explaining it was an accident. Bella, not believing her, struck back. Xi cried and stomped away. I watched it all go down and continued to wash dishes. Eventually I explained to Bella what I saw, but it was biased and preachy and my speech certainly didn’t inspire her to run to the bedroom and drape empathy over Xi’s shoulders. I washed more dishes. Then I dipped into the dark bedroom and ladled out empathy myself. Xi felt better but she could hear play continuing in the living room. She wanted to join back in, she wanted to have fun but she didn’t want to act as though nothing had happened either. She was trapped.

I stayed on the dark bed with her for a while, reminding myself that mothers don’t have to know what to do. I could simply hold her and sit in the dark, there are no rules that say mom has to make everything better, and in any case I didn’t know how to do that anyway. Finally I thought of the poster. Glory be! Xi was game so I invited Bella to join us there. They stood awkwardly, like newlyweds in a tiff, and I acted as host. Who wants to start? Will you tell us how you felt at the very first hit? And so we went through the progression, not how the fight went down, but how the girls felt at each stage.

Bella: Well when Xi first hit me I felt mad like this:  Then, I also felt like this: . And like I wanted her to hurt too, like get back at her. So I felt like this: ,

and:  . After I hit her, I have to admit I felt a little like “doh!”, like this: . Now I still feel a little like that but also a little like this: .

When I asked her what she would prefer to feel like she said, less of the “doh!/oops” feeling and more of the happy one.

Xi said: When I accidentally hit Bella and she yelled at me I felt like this: 

But I also felt a little like this:  because I wish that I had been more careful getting the paper out.

And then when she hit me I felt sad still and also like this: .

I still feel sad but what I want to feel like is this: .

I stood in the background and said almost nothing, only oh, uh huh, and oh yeah. That’s it.

The girls started out with their bodies turned as much away from each other as they could while still facing the poster. As they pointed and described, the space between them closed. By the end they were nearly belly to belly and grinning, shyly at first and then full throttle. They hadn’t directly exchanged a single word. They hadn’t “worked” anything out, they simply saw what is was like emotionally for one another. And that was it. I eventually said: Are you guys looking for a sense of closure? It looks like you want to hug. And they did, collapsing happily into gigggles and each other.

It’s miraculous. It’s empathy via pointing and it takes very little. As dirty, tired, and crunchy as they were last night I had very little hope that things would turn out. I imagined surreptitious elbow jabbing during tooth-brushing and crying ourselves into bed. I imagined herculean emotional feats on the part of mama, a collapse on the couch in exhaustion kind of evening. Instead we snuggled, all three of us in the big bed, close, warm, and well-loved. They drifted off to sleep with smiles on their faces.

Holy shit.





October 22, 2010 at 8:55 am 6 comments

Did I ever Mention This?

This is my girl today. Eyes ablaze, striking first, screaming second, pissed.

My logical, solution-seeking brain wants to know why? I scan through the last twenty-four hours. Did she get enough sleep? Food? What the bleep is wrong? Eventually I come to my senses, it doesn’t matter. I feed her all the time and we strive for as much sleep as possible. There aren’t days where I let sleep slide, or forget to offer nutrients, so even if I found a culprit to blame there still wouldn’t be anything to do differently in terms of physical needs.

After flailing about in this direction, I remember that I can still address emotional needs and quickly pull out empathy and information.

Empathy: Oh Echo. I see you’re really upset, really mad.

Information: When you scream at Bella like that she turns away from you and doesn’t want to play. Can I help you talk to her and figure out a solution?

I use my face to show understanding, I make myself physically available in case a hug or snuggle is desired, and I keep listening, searching for deeper feelings that can be empathized with. This is our formula and it works. It is time-consuming, at least in the moment, (although I’d argue that time-outs, threats and bribes take more time out of your life in the long-term), and quite verbal, but our children thrive under this system.

That being said, I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned the fact that I also use physical restraint. Today, empathy is reaching Echo’s ears, but not before she lands a few blows. Once I caught wind of her fierce temperament this morning I have been quick to slide my body between hers and her adversary. When the safety of others is involved I follow the same formula, while gently but firmly holding Echo in my arms.

Empathy: Oh Echo. You’re really mad. You want to hit her, huh? Oh you’re sad too? You wanted to play with that toy and she picked it up before you had a chance.

Information: You want me to let you go so that you can hit her and scratch her? Well, I think I’m going to continue holding you so that your sister stays safe. When you hit her she feels mad and probably won’t give you the toy. Do you want help figuring something else out?

It’s a safety clause but you have to be very mindful when you use it. It’s tempting to convince yourself that you are keeping others safe when in reality you are looking for ways to justify controlling your child’s movements. It’s better for your relationship to assume the best and be mistaken than to continuously and thoughtlessly jump in and use restraint. In addition, blocking a blow to spare another child harm is very different from grabbing an arm as an expression of your own anger. Empathic restraint is a short-term, temporary measure to protect others, the real, effective work is being done by your words, expression, and empathy.

July 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm 7 comments

oh yeah, and…

In the last post I talked about praise and abandoning it, in all its forms, for the sake of your child. Then today, as the girls got into one scrap or another, I realized that perhaps now might be a good time to talk about punishment too, or more specifically leaving it behind as well. I know the idea of ditching both praise and punishment, is, for many of us, almost too radical. Or maybe we can support the idea of using less praise, or less punishment, but not forsaking them entirely. Most of us still imagine scenarios in which punishment is not only necessary, but wise.

Violence, for example.

For a really long time, when I entered the room and saw one child physically assault the other, (hauling back with a solid punch, or a wicked scratch to the face), my automatic instinct was to swoop in quickly, silently, and suddenly, grab the offenders arm, and forcefully boom something like, NO! NOT OKAY! in the scariest voice I could muster. The urge to stop them in their tracks, scare them out of their wits, and swiftly deal out justice was incredibly strong.

Today my feelings about one child hurting another are the same: strong, hot, and sudden. But my response is no longer automatic, scary, or aggressive. We figure if we want to teach them that violence hurts, and that it is not helpful to their argument, then for goodness sakes, swooping in aggressively with our own violent force certainly sends the wrong message. We have reprogrammed ourselves to respond with empathy instead, not just for the apparently wounded either, but for the aggressor as well. The aggressor? Yes. Its counterintuitive, I know.

Hitting is always an expression of a feeling, usually anger, maybe frustration or despair. We believe it is beneficial to allow our children all of their feelings, no matter what they are, and to help them through them. Though we do not want them to hit each other, we are still going to assist them with the strong feelings behind the hitting. The idea is to give empathy for all feelings, even if we don’t like how they are expressing them. One tendency might be to give empathy to the wounded child in order to send a message to the child that hit. But this, though more subtle, is still manipulative and still punishment. Love withdrawal, no matter how it is clothed, is still punishment. (Again, read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, if you are still wondering about punishment.)

This is how it works:

Parent enters the room to see Alex punch Evan in the head.

Parent: “Woah! Hey! Do you guys need help?! Evan are you alright?” (Immediately holding both boys, if they allow it, or at least touching them in a caring way.)

Evan: “He hit me!” (crying)

Parent: ” Yes he did. You didn’t like that. Is your head hurting?”

Evan: “Yeah”

Alex: (interrupting) “Well he grabbed that truck from me! And I was playing with it!”

Parent: “You didn’t like it that he took that truck. You feel pretty mad about that?”

Alex: “Yeah”

Parent: “You felt so mad that you wanted to hurt him.”

Alex: “Yeah! I just wanted to bam him!”

Parent: “Yeah. You were so mad. Evan got hurt when you hit him. Were you scared too Evan?”

Evan: “Yeah. I didn’t like that.”

Parent: “No you didn’t.”

Often, after plenty of this kind of empathy, when the kids feel both heard and understood, they are willing to work things out.

Parent: “So you both really want that truck.”

Alex and Evan: “Yeah.”

parent: “Do you guys have any ideas how both kids can get what they want?…….”

This might look like a lot of work when typed out, but we found that enforcing punishments was far more taxing. In fact, I have found this method of “empathy instead” extremely liberating. This morning the girls were arguing over a necklace. Echo had a necklace that Xi had set down in order to get a snack. Xi had the intention of picking the necklace back up and continuing to play with it after she was done eating, but Echo had every intention of continuing to play with the necklace and flat out refused to return it. I found myself getting anxious. I didn’t know who to side with, I couldn’t remember any snacktime-break-from-playing precedent in the recent past, and I was plain tired of their squabbling. Then I realized I didn’t have to have the answers! I could simply have empathy for them both. In the end they came up with a solution on their own, one that never would have been embraced if a parent had imposed it.

If, after giving empathy and negotiating a solution, you find that you still want to address something like hitting or sharing, find a moment removed from the current scenario. Snuggling up in bed, waiting for a red light, or walking to the library are perfect opportunities to talk about taking turns and expressing feelings in ways that keep other kids safe. Your children will actually be able to hear you if they aren’t in the middle of defending themselves, or processing heated emotions.

Hitting and our responses to these unsavory behaviors are big topics. Its important to give yourself lots of empathy while figuring out the best way to parent your children through these moments. There is ego to deal with, painful memories of our own childhoods to sidestep, huge aspirations to live up to, and peer pressure to maneuver through. The parenting adventure is fraught with pitfalls so go easy on yourself no matter where you are in your process.

February 26, 2010 at 10:21 pm 12 comments

O stands for horse

I found myself musing about empathy skills today, when my children came up with some “feelings” they were feeling. For example:


This is a necklace Xi has been wearing lately. The “O”stands for horse, as in h.”O”.r.s.e. (I love the six year old mind and how it can modify any object, situation, or event to match their current obsession). So I asked her how she feels when she wears that necklace, and she said:

“I feel like I want to wear it for the rest of my life.”

Well, I surely can imagine a feeling such as this, but technically it lacks a certain… precision.

And then Echo has been making this face lately:


I showed her this picture and asked her how she feels when she is making this face. She said:

“Like I want to hit something.”

Again, the sentiment is crystal clear, but you wouldn’t find this emotion on the Center for Nonviolent Communication website.

On a side note, Echo really has been hitting things lately.

“This is my wacker-cracker! And I am going to whack you! Whack! Whack!”

“Ow! Your whacker-cracker is hurting me,

will you whacker-cracker something else?”

So I began to muse over empathy, and vocabulary. I certainly thought, in the back of my mind somewhere, that we were raising empathy geniuses. Well it turns out that I am just “above average” when it comes to empathy, according to this empathy test. Ha ha! Who knew?

This “news” sort of brought me back down to earth. I shouldn’t look for tests and vocabulary to verify empathic skills. Empathy is not meant for that realm. Instead, I should watch our six year old, who is afraid of cats, make room on the couch for our big feline beast. I should watch our two year old wield her whacker-cracker ever so gently against the tip of my shoe so that she can keep whacking, and I can stay safe. This is where to look. And, as it turns out, these girls are doing just fine. I don’t need a test to tell me that.

October 30, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Hitting Isn’t “Nice”

When you tell a child that something they are doing “isn’t nice” you are lying. Nothing ever falls into such a succinct category. What we usually mean to say is we don’t like what the child is doing or that we are concerned someone else might not like what they are doing. We are trying to communicate our feelings when we say something like this, but we are failing. If we want kids to tell us how they are feeling or care about other people’s feelings then let’s start by modeling that. It would be better to say, “Wow! I feel worried you guys are going to get hurt with that game!” or “Hey, I feel sad when you hit her,” or simply show you care about everyone’s feelings by asking them how they feel about what is going on. In this video Xi and Echo demonstrate that on this day, in this moment, hitting is fine (and fun!).
There is no “nice”, there are only feelings in reaction to actions and these change moment to moment, day to day.

April 6, 2009 at 7:16 am 1 comment

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