Now that Arddun’s crawling around the house quite a bit, and attempting to climb anything that looks remotely stable (say, the tablecloth), I find myself repeating the same words over and over during her waking hours.
“Uh uh! No, Arddun.”
“Arddun, I said ‘No’!”
Thing is, Tony and I haven’t been sure if she actually understands ‘no’. Right now, all things seem fair game right now, and Mommy and Daddy pulling her or her new toy away is just another game to master. You can tell me all about tone of voice and how I should sound firm and use a lower tone etc etc. Yes, yes. Except right now, I’m not sure she’s that good at reading tone of voice. Sometimes she seems to get it. But then I could use the exact same words and tone of voice other times, and I might as well be the wind blowing.
I was reading Momastery a few days ago, and really enjoyed this particular post about The Tantrum. You can read it for yourself (SO well written, so funny!) but the abridged version is this: basically, both her children chucked a huge wobbly at Target. The infamous, legendary kind you might have seen or heard about, where the kid has essentially given up all self-respect and is on the floor, screaming and crying. The stuff that inspires television commercials.
The stuff that terrifies every new and would-be parent.
For a few weeks now, Tony and I have been wondering if it’s too early to discipline Arddun. Let me rephrase – if it’s too early to smack her for being naughty. Shock horror, huh. Let me be very plain here: I don’t advocate smacking as the first, knee-jerk form of discipline. I don’t advocate smacking as the last resort either. But I think smacking a child has its place, if administered wisely and not out of malice, anger or spite. And certainly at this age, when you cannot reason with a baby who only hears, “Arddun… blah blah blah blah!”… how do you train a wilful child that there are boundaries that need to be adhered to, for her safety?
(That was a rhetorical question. The answer that we’ve chosen, kind reader, is that sometimes we’ll need to love her by smacking her.)
Arddun throws the most terrifying tantrums sometimes. Arched back fury, bright red indignation, full throttle screaming – all of it. I wish I caught it on video, but as young as 5 months, she was seen lying on her front in the cot, pounding her fists and legs into the mattress and just howling. She was 5 months going on Terrible Two. It made me want to laugh. It also made me want to run and hide. Because I think I got me a feisty one.
Anyway. This afternoon, while I was feeding her, she decided to bite me. It wasn’t the first time – she used to accidentally nick me with her teeth, and I’d pull away and tell her that it hurt, and not to do it again (firm voice), but it was always accidental.
Today, it was deliberate. And let me tell you, it hurt. Baby teeth are small, jagged, and therefore very sharp.
“No,” I said in my firm voice while pulling her away quickly. “Don’t bite me. It hurts.”
She looked at me. I looked back at her. She quietly went back to feeding. And then with eyes never leaving mine, she stopped… and then I felt her sloooowly – and ever so deliberately – sinking her teeth into me. The little rascal.
I pulled her away. And this time, I tapped her firmly on the cheek with two fingers.
“NO!” I said again, in my very firm voice. “Don’t. Bite. Mommy!”
She stared at me. I stared at her. I made sure my face was set in disapproval, my eyes narrowed and glaring. You could almost see her brain piecing things together.
One thousand… two thousand… three thousand…
Her eyes widened a fraction. She opened her mouth, turned bright red, and burst into tears.
And I knew I’d finally gotten through to her!
It was the weirdest feeling. A mixture of relief, residual annoyance, the slight twinge for making her cry, and the bizarre urge to laugh. She had finally understood “no”! Perhaps for the first time, she’d come to understand that her actions have consequences that Do Not Please Mommy. That all things are NOT permissible. That there is a link between what she’s done, and the words and actions that follow which disapprove.
Breakthrough. I’ve communicated to my baby.
But… now what? Tony and I remember a parenting class that spoke about the need to restore the relationship. But how do you convey forgiveness, without undermining the lesson just taught? Hugging her immediately felt like I was telling her to overlook the scolding, and that I was sorry for calling her to obedience. Yet, sitting there mutely felt callous. There was a distinct sense of needing closure.
And how does a baby seek restitution, anyway? By now, Arddun was frantically feeding for two seconds (“nom nom nom nom!” – exact sounds), then pulling away and yell-crying at me accusingly, then throwing herself back to feeding frantically. And here I was, racking my brains on how to communicate that the lesson has been taught, and that it’s time to move on.
So I sat her on my knee, made eye contact, and told her quietly but firmly that “that’s enough” and we can move on to the next thing. I knew she was still hearing, “Arddun… blah blah blah blah,” but eventually she quietened down enough to look me in the eyes calmly. When we resumed feeding, she didn’t bite me anymore and then we moved on.
Look. Maybe I had imagined the whole thing about breaking through to her. And I’m not convinced that she understood the forgiveness bit, even if she understood that our relationship had been restored once more. And many of you may choose never to smack your own children, and might be completely appalled that Tony and I are even asking the question.
All I’m saying is, it’s one of the many “first steps” we’re now making to teach Arddun that there is right and wrong, good and bad, permissible and out of bounds. And learning what “no” means is the most crucial first step to protecting her from all the Ugly.