My Attachment Parenting support group made all the difference

Editor’s note: Parent support makes a world of difference — when we strengthen families, we nurture and fulfill our children’s need for trust, respect, and affection, and ultimately provide a lifelong foundation for healthy, enduring relationships. Sharing our parenting experiences — the difficult, trying, joyous, and happy ones — with other like-minded parents can help us feel understood and supported. Attachment Parenting International (API) is dedicated to supporting families in realizing the most important job there is –raising compassionate kids who will shape the future of our world. Click here to find an API Support Group near you.  

It was our usual afternoon trip to the library before picking up my oldest son from school. We typically go once a week and bring a large, reusable bag to fill with books — only on that day, I took a smaller bag, which I thought was a really minor change. But when my almost 4-year-old son realized that I’d done something that, in his mind, was completely different from what we always do, he wanted me to go home to get usual bag.

I could tell he was sad and close to tears, but he was trying to manage his emotions and to stay calm as I empathized with him and explained that it wasn’t possible to rectify the situation. After a couple minutes, he started to get sadder and louder.

Still, I managed to stay calm. It felt like a real success for me — completely keeping my cool even in a public setting, responding to him with empathy, staying connected, and not punishing or lecturing him for his emotions. Since we were in a library, I wanted to get out of there quickly so we didn’t disturb people. Unfortunately, trying to make that happen was quite a challenge for me as a mom. My younger daughter was with us and was happily selecting books from the shelf. I had to make the choice of checking out her books while my toddler cried and fought, or just leaving without them, which might upset her as well.

There were several other people around who seemed were watching me, including a few moms who were talking nearby, a mother with a young child playing calmly, a librarian, and an older man. As I struggled to the door with a baby in one arm and a crying toddler in the other, I didn’t worry if they were judging me. I knew I was handling the situation the best I could, and I was proud of that, but I did get upset that no one was able to offer me any help.

I felt that I could barely manage to open the door and get the kids to the car on my own, but somehow, I did. In the car, despite feeling pleased with my patience and ability to remain calm, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I realized just how alone I had been in that challenging situation, and I couldn’t help but cry.

Afterwards, I reached out to the other parents in my API Support Group about my experience. The amount of support and love I got from the other parents was amazing. Many praised my ability to stay calm in a stressful situation. Several pointed out that strangers are often unsure of how to help or unsure whether help is even wanted. Some shared that they had similar experiences and could relate. And one person also said that she wished she’d been there to help, to hold the door or to put her arm around me for support.

She told me, “You are not alone anymore,” which is something I wish all parents could hear when they’re struggling in moments like this.

4 positive discipline ideas for toddler hitting

DSC06544Hitting is a normal toddler behavior that often begins between ages 1 ½ and 2 years old. There could be many different reasons, including the child being angry but unable to express it or you being unable to understand what he’s trying to express, a life change such as a new sibling, or simply the child wanting to explore what her hand can do and what happens when she hits.

So, what can parents do about it?

Shortly after my son’s 2nd birthday and right around the time my next baby was born, my son began hitting. He would hit his brother when he was angry, and sometimes he would hit my husband and me playfully, which was still something we wanted to discourage.

We tried a variety of different strategies to prevent it and teach him not to hit. Here are 4 positive discipline ideas to try if your toddler hits:

  1. We tried to find new, creative things to do with his hands throughout the day, such as teaching hand-clapping games, different hand gestures like thumbs-up, or sign language — just something to engage the hands in a more productive and fun manner. Sometimes, if I saw he was about to hit playfully, I would try to high-five him instead.
  2. We also did a lot of soft, nurturing touch with him, like rubbing his arms, and made that more of a part of our day.
  3. I found that it was really beneficial to give him more outlets to get out some of his physical energy: running outside, finding things that he could throw, and letting him hit a pillow.
  4. It was important to me to model empathy and try to show that hitting can hurt. If he did hit us, I would often make an exaggerated sad face and say how hurt I was. Once we were out of that immediate moment of his anger — or silliness, in some cases — I would remind him that hitting hurts, that we shouldn’t hit others, and that we have to use soft touch. If he was really angry, we’d talk about other concrete ways that he could express that anger instead. We made a point to model this with his stuffed animals. I have a video of my son when he was two where he hits his stuffed panda and says, “Slap panda.” After a second, he rubs the panda’s arm gently, hugs it, and says, “No, hug. Hug panda!”

What’s most important during a hitting situation is to stay calm and to remember that it is normal part of toddler development. It’s a phase that will pass, and the 4 ideas above may be some techniques to help it pass a little more quickly and smoothly.

Respectful Discipline

As the mother of a very curious and interactive seven-month-old, I’m constantly having to redirect her correct some of her less-than-desirable behaviors. She’s so interested in her world and eager to interact with anyone and everyone who will give her the time of day. At our last pediatrician’s appointment, we were told that socially, she’s way ahead of their expectations. I’m not really surprised, considering she has highly social parents; she comes by it honestly. She loves talking to people and even gets her feelings hurt when someone enters the room without acknowledging her presence.

Arbor socializing with her new friend, Shelby.

We recently went out of town to visit friends and family and introduce her to a few people who still hadn’t had the chance to meet her. Her social nature really shined through while she met all of these new people. She gladly demonstrated her new “tricks” like giving hugs and singing. As she became more comfortable in her temporary environment, she would explore and find things that she could get into. Her favorite things, whether at home or a home away from home, are wires and cords. This means I’m always having to get up, redirect her, and find replacements. I’ve been told time and time again that she’ll stop it if I just swat her hand. While I can appreciate how that would work, I don’t want to start punitive discipline with my child and get in the habit of it all now. I’d much rather physically move her and tell her why she can’t do what it is she’s trying to do. It’s definitely more work than just a quick swat but I’m already seeing the benefits of it.

There’s the obvious benefit of not starting the bad habit of using physical force as a means of discipline. I’m getting myself in the habit of using my words to help teach her what is okay and what is not. This in turn is teaching her to understand words and respond appropriately. Arbor has been great about understanding the good “trigger words” that I’ve been using to help teach her. She doesn’t talk much yet but she really seems to have a great understanding of a lot of these words. Some of the ones I’ve been effectively using are

  • danger
  • unh-unh
  • gentle touch
  • owie

I’ve been finding that repetitive use of these trigger words usually work a lot better than when I get irritated and begin to raise my voice or simply move her from whatever it is that she’s into. It’s taken consistency, repetition and having my husband on board. It requires regular communication between the two of us about what it is I’m working on teaching her and with his support, we are gently disciplining our infant.

It’s really encouraging as a parent to see that even at this really young age, before she has become verbal, she’s responding well to verbal direction. I don’t have to resort to violent behavior. I don’t have to hit to teach. As a first time mom who has chosen to use AP principles and peaceful parenting techniques, I’ve been a bit skeptical of this whole non-violent parenting technique. Either I won’t be able to stick with it or I’ll have an unruly child who doesn’t listen to me. She’s only seven months old and is already proving me wrong. We’re learning together how to communicate with each other. She’s learned that I will respond to her when she shows me she wants or needs something and it has set the foundation for a trusting relationship between the two of us. Because I listen to her, she also listens to me. I am loving that we have a relationship built on mutual respect. If I didn’t believe it before, I definitely believe you can respect and be respected by an infant.  We are establishing the framework for a loving relationship. It won’t be without its struggles but it is definitely reaffirming of the principles I have been learning about developing a healthy attachment with my daughter.