Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hitting is Unacceptable

“Mommy, there is no hitting in this house.  Tell Chah-wee you’re sorry.”

When Caden was a year and a half old, X taught him to beat our dog.   Whenever I took an unsafe or inappropriate object away from him, my little boy who gave the world’s greatest hugs would run away from me and seek our 25 lb mutt to take out his frustration on.  I watched in horror as he beat our family pet with little angry fists.

As soon as we left our home, I made it a promise to myself and to them that although I couldn’t erase the sad and unhealthy parts of the past, I could undo any sad and unhealthy teachings of the past.

I fostered Ginger, a one year old pit bull mix of 60 lbs.  She took to Sean, who was about 5 months old at the time, right away.  She would lay there and let him poke at her.  She was very gentle.   Three months later, I rescued a pup that was about to be turned into the pound.  Charlie.  Tall, floppy eared, big pawed Charlie.  He was wild, stubborn, resilient and Caden loved him.

Teaching Caden not to hit took more than a simple “No” and punishment.  Lots of young parents are quicker to swat our kids in the butt and tell them that what they did was bad.  But I didn’t see how that would do any good trying to teach a child not to hit… by hitting him.  Instead, I had to teach him why hitting was bad.

First, I took a knee.  Looking in his eyes at his level, I told him “Caden, hitting is unacceptable.”  My voice was firm, but not raised.  Taking his hand, I led him to Charlie.  Despite Charlie’s goofy forgetfulness of the incident, he sat on command and waited for the apology.  “Caden, you see where you hit Charlie?”  I pointed to Charlie’s back.  “He’s really hurt.  When you hit him, it hurt.  Look, see?  Check if he’s okay.” 

I watched as Caden frowned and the look of empathy blanketed his face.  He put his hand on Charlie’s back and sadly said, “Oh!  You poor thing.  You okay?”  I told Caden that he should say he was sorry for hurting him.  He took Charlie’s face in his hands and looked in his eyes.  “Aww I sorry, Chah-wee.”

I smiled and gave him a big hug and told him, “Good job honey. “

Over the next several months, I was consistent not just with teaching him not to hit Charlie but others as well.  As he got into the jealousy phase when Sean started crawling and then walking, Caden began to push his brother.  I immediately corrected him the same way I corrected him with Charlie.

So, when Charlie was about seven months old or so, he was wild with puppy rebellion.  He would constantly check the boundaries by jumping on furniture or bursting through the doorways.  He got quite challenging with the training. 

Moments before Caden scolded me, “Mommy, there is no hitting in this house.  Tell Chah-wee you’re sorry,” Charlie had just burst through the backdoor after being outside.  He galloped through the house, slamming right into an unsuspecting Sean.  My little guy landed with a thud, crying from the shock of the wreck he just endured. 

My initial reaction, not the best as Caden pointed out, was to swat Charlie right on his rump and command him to sit. 

My Caden’s big brown eyes looked up at me beneath furrowed eyebrows.  His expression was that of complete and utter disapproval.  He had a little index finger pointed at me as scolded me.

I looked at Charlie, still in the ‘sit’, his big goofy doggy smile and one ear up making him look even sillier.  The swat didn’t hurt him, I didn’t hit him hard—just enough to get his attention.  But that didn’t matter.  I had to lead by example.

What a lot of us parents practice is “Do what I say and not as I do.”  I think that’s a load of crap.  We parents have a responsibility to our children to show them that we live by the very values we teach them.  It makes us credible.

I took a knee.  “Aw, Charlie, are you okay?” I asked, stroking the back of my stubborn German Shepherd.  “I’m sorry I hit you, Charlie.  Hitting is unacceptable in this house.”

I apologized to Caden, gave him a hug and told him how proud of him I was.

I burst with joy inside when I realized I had undone the sad and unhealthy teaching of X.  More importantly, I taught Caden not just that it was wrong to hit but why.  And I applauded myself for stepping down and learning from my child, showing him that I practice what I preach.

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