"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it." - Mark Twain
“Sienna hit me!” Alessio cries.
“She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s a baby. Just playing. A love tap,” I say. But in reality, my 14-month old has a death grip so strong I call her Shera Warrior Princess. I try to pry her hand off Alessio’s sleeve, but Sienna will have none of it. My two kids are in a tug of war. I’m both dismayed and amused that Sienna is holding her own with her 2 ½-year-old brother.
Life is messy. Things get out of hand. Kids hit, bite, steal and push. Aggressive tendencies appear right along with motor skills- at about one-year old. A primal throw-down from the old fight or flight syndrome. Kids are practicing both curiosity and survival. A certain amount of aggressive behavior is normal.
When does encouraging independence run into bullying? It’s a matter of degrees. Protecting what is yours is one thing; being selfish and refusing to share is another. Standing your ground? Great. Stomping on someone else’s ground? Big no-no.
The problem with having two kids so close in age is that sibling rivalry is more common, and can be more heated as the children compete for parental attention and the same toys, and are often lumped together in the same activities. When aggression is between siblings, a mom can begin to feel like a cop, trying to protect one against the other.
The last thing I want to be is a Mommy Cop, but I’m stuck between two screaming kids, aware that Sienna is too young to have a time-out, though she happens to be the aggressor in this case. Alessio is too young to understand why his little sister’s bad behavior doesn’t get the same treatment as his bad behavior when he pushes or hits her.
I finally free Alessio from the Shera death grip, but not without a fight. Sienna even bats her little fist at me. I am glad she is tough - that she wants what she wants and is not afraid to say so, but I’m also concerned that she is bullying her brother and worried that I might be raising a wussy. Is it possible to teach too much compassion? Will Alessio’s turning the other cheek make him a target for playground bullies? Just as I am feeling sorry for Alessio, he takes a shot at his little sister and she hits back. The toddler war continues.
I want to scream myself. Instead, I enforce calm by speaking in my most reasonable Mommy voice. “Alessio, your baby sister learns by watching you. She’s little. You are big. You are her teacher. She wants to do everything you do - even hitting or pushing if that’s what you teach her. Little sister is your instant karma. Whatever you do to her comes back to you. If you are patient and kind, she’ll learn that too.”
Alessio seems to like this explanation and gives me a grateful look. Over time, he has begun to like his role as teacher. Sometimes he gives Sienna his toy to look at. Other times he takes it back. Children have to develop their own relationships.
On my beat as Mommy Cop, I try not to intervene in every situation. When I do, it helps to talk in toddler terms and gently guide, rather than punish. Rephrasing the negative behavior by saying, “That’s not nice” is ineffective. Toddlers are too young to understand moral words like nice and not nice. The best toddler-speak is in concrete terms: Hitting hurts. Let’s find another toy. How can we do this better?
Catch your kids being generous, patient, compassionate. Be more effusive over good behavior than you are over unwanted behavior. It all comes down to the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s good advice at any age.