Memory: Standing in my tiny, ‘railroad’ kitchen. I am talking with an adult friend. My three-year old (hmm… maybe he was four) hauls back his small fist and punches it straight out at shoulder level, right into my butt. My voice, parroting the child rearing dogma of the time, “It is not ok to hit people.” Then I continue talking to my friend. My son punches again. Hard. My voice, now more animated, “Ouch! That hurts. I don’t want to be hit.” And I turn back, and continue talking to my friend. Once again, he punched. My voice, now sharp: “If you hit me again, you will get a Time Out!.” Before I can turn back to my friend, Bam! His little fist hammered my Gluteus Maximus.
At this point, time slowed down. I started to open my mouth, was about to say something, wanted to give him one more chance, and I stopped. Standing there, mouth half-open, I realized that I was receiving very clear, very direct (albeit painful) communication from my son. So, I stopped talking, took my son’s hand and led him into his room. I placed him in his bed and started his three-minute Time Out. (We set a timer for one minute per year of age). More than two hours later, he emerged from his room, happy and rested.
What did he learn from this experience? I am not sure. But I know that I learned a lot. I learned that my son, at least some part of him, knew exactly what he needed (in this case, rest and quiet). I learned that he was a committed communicator (even if his verbal skills were yet to be perfected). And I learned that I was a parent, and for my son’s sake, I needed to start acting like one.
May all babies be born into loving hands