I wrote an article for Montana Parent Magazine, where I mention the importance of setting boundaries with children. Boundaries are important, as you teach kids new activities & just in general.
“Every person, not just kids, needs to know the rules & their boundaries. Boundaries create structure we can all relax within.” (read my other article here on page 18)
As I wrote the section on setting boundaries, I was reminded of the words we use at preschool when a kid hits or gets hit by another child.
‘We use Gentle Hands & Feet.’
This boundary – ‘No Hit Me’ or ‘I No Hit’ or ‘Gentle Hands’ in two yr old speak – is so powerful to me.
It is a reminder for kids & adults to be gentle. For us to show compassion when using our hands, feet, words and actions; to use these hands, words and actions for love instead of pain.
It’s not only good for kids to understand other’s boundaries, they should also make some for themselves. And it is even better if they practice sharing their boundaries with others (i.e. it’s not okay to hit me – both parent & child should have this boundary).
So when I find myself helping a kid or toddler whose quick reaction is to hit OR if I find myself with the urge to get loud or grab quick (even attachment-trained, yoga teachers can experience these feelings), I…
Take a deep breath, counting to at least 4. Then I take 2 more. I remember it is my job as the adult to keep everyone safe & therefore make sure everyone has gentle hands & feet.
Keeping this promise can be a big challenge, don’t get me wrong. But, in the words of Circle of Security-Parenting, it is our responsibility as caregivers to be Bigger. Stronger. Wiser. & Kind.
This means setting the example. So if a kid hits me, I kindly but firmly remind them it is not okay to hit.
A child should always have the right to be frustrated or upset with me or the moment and be able to express that (i.e. I am mad you are making us leave). But hitting is always a boundary.
A good friend of mine, who works in the school district, sometimes refers to the hitting phenomenon in kids as a lack of Vitamin-T; T standing for touch.
Every person, especially as a kid, needs healthy touch.
If a kid is lacking positive touch; hugs, cuddles, eye contact, shared smiles, hand holding, a gentle hand on the shoulder, even for a short period of time; they might get touch, Vitamin-T, the only way they can think to try. This could be by hitting, grabbing, pushing, piling into or otherwise. This is true of toddlers, preschoolers all the way to adulthood…
So usually, I find the answer to an angry, hitting, grabbing or just plain melting down child (or maybe parent) is being with. When I am being with a child’s big emotion, I like to hold them close, make lots of eye contact & take deep belly breathes. This emotion and feeling will pass for everyone, eventually.
“It’s snuggling. It’s cuddling. It’s holding. It’s connecting. It’s safety. It’s protection. It’s Being-With. It’s soothing. It’s delight. It’s love.
It’s putting down the phone and looking at someone while talking. It’s working through a conflict even when it makes you nervous and uncomfortable. It’s offering the protection of boundaries and structure. It’s being flexible and wise. It’s being kind and loving.” – Circle Of Security-Parenting (read more)
Please know, there isn’t always a quick fix to bring a kid back to calm. When I sit with or hold a child, I like to do a body scan too. Scanning to noticing my breathing, checking my forehead, eyes, cheeks, jaw & shoulders for tension; noticing if my fingers are loose or tight. This helps me determine if I’m adding any stiffness to the moment that just doesn’t need to be there. So we can both relax faster. Thank you yoga practice…
So what if, while you’re trying to hold your WILD CHILD, they are hitting you, ramping up screaming and going berserk?
I do the same thing.
I remind them kindly but firmly, “It is okay to be mad, but it is not okay to hit me. (BREATHE, MAKE EYE CONTACT) I am here to keep us both safe. (BREATHE, RELAX MY FACE) I will stay with you / hold you with my gentle hands until you show me your gentle hands and feet.” (BREATHE SO DEEP THE KID CAN HEAR AND FEEL IT)
While I breathe deeply & hold or sit near a child who is having a moment, I also watch their face. I try to repeat what I see in their eyes or hear in their voice.
This facial and vocal mimicry helps me stay in the present moment. It also gives me compassion & understanding for what the kid is going through. This shows the child that I care about what they think, feel and are experiencing.
This maybe-too-obvious compassion can be hugely powerful for kids at times when a hug isn’t available (i.e. maybe your teenager who is pulling away from you, when you’re out in public, when you’re at the other end of the table, or with a toddler who won’t stop hitting etc).
Some examples of other things I say when I and/or a kid is feeling it:
- No thank you
- Let’s take some deep breaths
- I can see you are upset [that play time is over]
- I can hear you are disappointed [your prom got cancelled]
- We don’t hit our friends. Let’s ask them if they are okay
- I am very frustrated with this moment and need to take a few breaths, would you like to breathe with me?
It feels so powerful to show a kid that even when they do something upsetting, I still love them & I am there to figure it out with them. I’m not going anywhere. Not easy, but so so powerful!
BONUS, if you have or are with other kids when something like this happens, you can invite them to sit with you. They may even want to get in on the cuddles. This way they can show their support for their sibling or friend too. “Taylor, Lila is really sad her clay project just broke. Will you sit with us?”
It’s definitely worth ending this article on a very yogic note: As parents and caregivers we won’t always get it right, and every day will be different than the last, mistakes will be made… but we always have the chance to reflect, choose love & change it up next time (then again & again…)
Sending endless peace and resilience your way,
p.s. If this sounds like (a) a scenario you’ve been in a lot &/or (b) something you struggle with when it comes up &/or (c) feel uncomfortable setting boundaries and would like an opportunity to explore these moments in a safe, non-judgmental and exploratory environment, sign-up for our next COS-P group class to hone your natural parenting skills! Or check out the Circle of Security-Parenting (COS-P) website for some of their articles and resources.
p.s.s. Don’t forget!
Bigger + Stronger + Wiser + Kind = Setting The Example