(All right, so I promised in my last post that I would explore the connections between Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting and my faith. I’m still trying to organize my thoughts on the subject; in the meantime, I thought I’d offer this confession).
OK, So maybe “Confessions of a Hypocrite” is a bit of a dramatic label for what I’m about to discuss. It’s a bit more of an honest exploration of my recent feelings and experiences.
So. I’ve been talking lately about Unconditional Parenting and my commitment to nonviolence.
Several commenters have highlighted the difficulty in applying Alfie Kohn’s practice of reasoning with — rather than punishing and rewarding — very young children, especially babies and toddlers. How do you explain to a one-year-old why she needs to stay away from a hot wood stove? How to you explain to a two-year-old why he can’t have a brownie before supper, or why we have to leave the park before he feels ready? How do you explain to a toddler why she can’t play in the middle of the street?
And the truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know how to get a child to comply, especially when it’s a matter of grave importance (like safety), but that child doesn’t have the capacity for reason.
Sometimes, don’t you need to spank to communicate the seriousness of a command?
This dilemma became personal for me when Lydia started biting me while nursing around 6 months. And later again when she started biting me and Ben for fun — on our arms, our legs, our toes. She thought it was hilarious.
I didn’t know what to do. I tried using words:
“LYDIA,” I thundered with my sternest face and voice. “NO. BITING.”
And do you know what she did?
She thought my angry face and voice were funny!
This was especially problematic when she was biting our legs while hanging onto our pants to stand up — she was biting out of playfulness. She was in a silly mood. She was in no state of mind for serious moral lessons.
I confess, I was tempted, and seriously considered, smacking her on the mouth when it came to these situations, pacifistic commitments notwithstanding.
All right, “serously considered” sounds too even-tempered and deliberate. I had a sudden and powerful urge to smack her on the mouth. I mean, seriously: OUCH! Those knife-like little chompers on your exposed nipple are no joke!
I wanted to communicate to her quickly and emphatically how serious her action was. How could I do that when my words and tone of voice didn’t work?
Thankfully, she just grew out of her boob-biting habit after a few weeks, and so I never had to decisively resolve that issue. She still sometimes bites us for fun, but we can usually see the hungry look in her eyes and distract her before it gets to that point.
(Not always, though. I’m currently sporting a nice pair of crescent-shaped bruises on my left thigh.)
But the question remains: what do you do when someone’s safety (or boob) is at stake, but you can’t reason with your kid? Is hitting sometimes permissible, when there’s no other way to communicate an action’s seriousness?
Or is there always some other way? Perhaps my imagination is just limited, and I need to work harder at a more creative solution.
I’m not sure. What do you think?
Do you have any non-violent solutions for me?