This is a picture of me at two and a half, about to careen down an unsecured, hot metal slide with essentially no sides and the adult in charge of my safety standing fifteen feet away with a camera in his hands. I grew up before the term helicopter parenting existed, raised by a stay at home dad who taught me how to play five card draw, how to fight (a shot straight to the nose and they’re in too much pain to fight back), and encouraged sibling love by having us compete for the most pull-ups on a bar hung from the maple tree in our backyard. Add to that genetics and a grandfather who was known to kick people’s asses for offenses ranging from pointing out his short stature to breathing wrong and you can imagine that I was an aggressive kid.
I have a master’s degree in psychological services in education from a snooty Ivy League school so at this point in the post you might expect me to write at length about the causes of childhood aggression as well as the very clinical strategies for ending said aggression. But I’m not going to do that and here is why. It’s okay that
some many most kids have aggressive moments.
Recently a friend shared that his two plus year old son had a not so pleasant moment in public where he brought the baby smack down to another little one who had gotten too close to his personal space (i.e. the store’s public play area). This doesn’t mean that his child is destined for a lifetime of brawls, but instead shows that his little guy had a moment of extreme frustration and chose to act out physically. In his tiny two year old tool kit, a slap/hit/punch/kick/bite was the most effective strategy to communicate the message he needed to convey – “Back up off of my stuff, yo.” As he grows and finds other coping strategies, that physical aggression will be replaced with age appropriate reactions to pushy babies…when they are age appropriate. For example, I can now throat punch people (in my mind) with careful word choice, deep breaths, my ability to walk away, and dark chocolate. In fact, I’d bet that very few of us who were known for some major butt kicking as children now find ourselves in fist fights, and only a small percentage of us required years of therapy and pharmaceuticals to get there.
So parents, hang in there, stop apologizing, stop beating yourself up, and take heart – I haven’t punched anyone since junior high. I promise it gets better.
Great post, Amy. This line really resonated with me: “We need to remember that as parents it is more important that we are responsible to our children than responsible for them.”
Maya hasn’t shown any aggression yet (she’s the one getting hit or bitten at school) buuuuut she does have her punky moments, even at 18-months. This weekend we were visiting my family and she had spent 2 solid days with my sister while I was at a conference and they were besties — but as soon as we got to my parents’ house, she turned from my sister and was actually mean to her. It was heart-breaking for all of us to watch. Maybe she feared I was leaving her again, who knows … but I found myself apologizing profusely. In reality, the apology was futile. At 18 months of age, she doesn’t really know better … and it’s not a reflection on me as a parent. She’s feeling her oats, learning about her surroundings. And even though I did feel bad for my sister – who had been counting down the days til they would be together — there are no apolgoies needed for that. She isn’t going to become a meanie because of it.
Also? I think it is really important that we teach our kids to stand up for themselves. Now maybe cold cocking Jimmy because he took your toy isn’t the right response, BUT you should let him know that it isn’t acceptable. I think finding ways to channel that aggressiveness effectively helps turn our kids into some pretty strong adults.
I’m glad you were wearing pants. I remember burning the crap out of myself going down a metal slide.
Thank you for writing this. This is one of the things we struggle the most with Michael and I fear it will never get better.
It’s definitely a struggle to separate yourself from your kid’s behavior, but like you I had a very protective mom but did all kinds of dangerous things and dealt with frustration and anger appropriately MOST of the time. As an adult I have more coping strategies, but it’s tough because two of my kids have special needs so their reactions, while quite healthy for them, often leave other parents looking at me funny.
Love it! My #2 kid is very sweet but, like many 3 year olds, his “tool kit” is limited. I still remember watching him sing his little preschool songs when another kid bumps into him. It was do to lack of coordination, not malice, but my kid clearly thought the other kid had hit him. So, he socked him one back. Fortunately, all the kids kept singing. The other parents and the teacher and I actually found it kind of funny (though of course we didn’t let the kids see that). We explained that you need to take a step back and ask, “Did you bump into me or did you mean to hit me?” And then use your words, not your fists to respond, etc. But at the same time, it is good to know that he will stand up for himself. I am confident that with time and guidance, he will stand up for himself in a less physical way.