Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I am going to kick you

Elli and I had a bit of a fight at her school today.  We had differing opinions on how the rest of the day was going to go.  She felt that it was going to go like "Elli stands in a corner pouting until Daddy agrees to stay at school all night" and I felt it was going to go like "We go home now".

I forcefully sat Elli down to get her outside things on and she declared "I am going to kick you!" and pulled her leg back to boot me in the chest.  This is the sort of thing that you can respond to in a number of ways.  I chose to grab her leg with one hand fairly hard and hold it exactly where it was and say "No, you are not."  I then held her leg there for about 10 seconds or so without letting her move and then let go.  She collapsed in tears, allowed herself to be clothed and we left the school.  2 minutes later she was as happy as anything and we had a perfectly nice walk home.

How to respond to that sort of aggression is really a tricky thing.  I was physically forcing her to sit down and remove her inside shoes so I can't complain that she went the "might makes right" route first.  On the other hand, she was being unreasonable and we simply can't sit at school until a tired, hungry little person decides it is time to go.  I am the parent and I have the responsibility to make the necessary things happen even if it isn't fun for her or me.  I have watched different parents take different routes when their child tries to strike them and while I am pretty sure some of them are terrible I don't claim to know what is best.  Some of them just let the kid strike them and ask them not to; I think that is terrible.  Sending the impression that assault is something you tolerate strikes me as a disastrous message.  I have heard of parents telling their children "Don't hit me there honey, if you have to hit me, hit me on the arm or something" which is right out.  Decades ago the answer would have been for me to give her a slap or a spanking but those options are not so much tolerated now - I am actually concerned that doing that in a school might get me in legal trouble, if I was so inclined.  I have also seen parents who just dodge their children's attacks - or try to, at any rate; sometimes they just take it and act as if it was nothing regardless of whether or not it hurt.

My technique is obviously designed to send the message that she is both not allowed and utterly unable to assault me.  I can hold her such that she cannot hurt me with fairly minimal effort and although it certainly isn't comfortable for her I expect that the greater part of the aggravation for her is that she is simply dominated by something she cannot fight.  Being totally helpless is *not* a pleasant situation for most people (though they like to play the role of helpless for a thrill sometimes) and this is especially true for people who really like to have their situation under control.  The message I want to send to her is that it is totally unacceptable to strike someone and that she will not be allowed to do so.  I wish I could send that message without physical force but that isn't feasible.  Much like putting people in prison it is a technique that is terrible but has no real alternative that doesn't make things even worse.


  1. I don't think you need to agonize over who started with the physical stuff first. Elli is testing you to see how far she can go and you clearly showed her. It sounds like she was relieved to find all is right and normal in her world, you are in control and she doesn't have to be. You are making the bigger decisions for her so she doesn't have to carry all the responsibility - and she shouldn't at her age.

  2. The following is available at the National Film Board of Canada (or your local library):

    Minister’s Prize, Québec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport (Multimedia Category)

    Is aggressive behaviour normal in young children? When should you start to worry? This interactive DVD attempts to answer these questions by offering direct observations on situations filmed in natural settings, exercises, quizzes and interviews with experts in childhood aggression. A comprehensive guide aimed at anyone interested in the development of young children.
    2010 (240 MIN)
    English dubbed version; 2-disc DVD set

    It might be worth a look, Sky. Mike Z.