I get occasional emails from a popular parenting site and while I tend to find that most modern parenting techniques don’t mesh with my style or my toddler’s personality, I do find, from time to time, an article that speaks to an issue I’ve been struggling with or wondering about. This morning was one such time; I received an email with a link to a short article about disciplining other people’s children. (Click the link if you want to read it yourself; it’s very short.)
The reason this stood out to me was because one of Little Miss’ friends has gotten into the habit of hitting. She’s not a mean child by any standards, and is actually a very sweet little girl. We’re not sure where she picked up hitting; while she does go to daycare, it doesn’t sound like, from what I’ve heard, that she picked it up there. Wherever she saw it or however she discovered it, she’s really enjoying doing it, and it’s typically the first thing she does when she sees Little Miss.
Young toddlers don’t understand that they can hurt people. They understand pain, but they don’t make the connection that they can cause others to feel pain. So when they take up biting, hitting, kicking, or throwing items at others, it’s probably just a new sensation they like to experiment with, and the reaction they get (squealing, screaming, crying, yelping, running away, etc.) entertains them so they figure it’s a good game. Our job as parents is to help teach these concepts to our little ones so they begin to grasp empathy and understand appropriate social behaviour.
I admit that after reading this article I was a bit concerned. The so-called “experts” were trying to tell me that stopping the aggressive behaviour of another child toward my own was unacceptable, inappropriate, and, in short, wrong. This floors me. Another child is acting out physically toward my child – who in most cases has done nothing wrong – and I’m supposed to simply sit there and accept it because it’s not my child misbehaving? I’m simply to shrug it off and send my child the message that physical abuse is tolerable and okay? That, my friends, is wrong.
When I started reading through the comments, however, I began to feel much better. These moms know what they’re talking about, I thought. In reality, I should have thought: These moms clearly think more like me (which, I realize , is narcissistic).
The first mother commenting on the article expressed frustration that no one seems to remember there is a difference between disciplining and correcting. I think any parent would agree that watching another parent discipline your child (sending him into time-out, spanking him, taking away his cookie, etc.) would anger and perhaps even enrage them. However, I think most reasonable parents would agree that if their child is acting out toward another, and they don’t happen to see it occur, the other child’s parent has every right to squat down next to both children and gently explain that what they did wasn’t nice and that it hurt the other child. Correction of wrongdoing – even in a child not your own – is acceptable, while discipline is not.
With that said, please do not assume I mean that in 100 percent of circumstances children who are not your own should never be disciplined by you. I am happy to hear that my child’s daycare utilizes time-outs on her when she needs them. When I leave my child in the care of someone else, especially if it is on the person’s own turf, I expect and appreciate that they feel comfortable enough disciplining Little Miss when needed.
Rules are rules, and respect is required and deserved. That goes for both the parents and the toddlers.