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My Toddler Won't Stop Kicking Me!

conscious parenting core 4 emotional regulation foundational skills parenting
Boy trying to hit woman, upset toddler

Today we’re talking about physical behavior with our kids, how they come at us physically and how we are going to manage that.  One of my clients who's a Transforming the Toddler, Toddler Years course graduate, still works with me and we work very deeply together monthly. Here’s what’s happening with their newly turned three year old.  

This little girl is testing her physical world and the boundaries that go with it and she's also testing the relationship. She wants to make sure that what she's hearing, seeing, and receiving from her dad is real, that it's true.

With kids who struggle with trauma, we call this attachment reattachment theory, right? Do you really mean it?  Are you really this loving? Are you really this kind? Are you really going to be right here for me? No matter what, this little girl has had none of that, thank goodness, in her background. She's been raised in a loving, kind, collaborative home, but she is a toddler and she's a true covid baby.

And so she really is still working out how do we socially interact? And where are those boundary lines?  So she's been doing this. She's been walking up to her dad, kind of not smiling, but like just a little bit of  whatever look on her face, kicking him, not super hard, right? She's not in meltdown mode, just a little kick tap and then a smile. 

What is she doing? Why on God's green earth would a kid do this? It's ridiculous, right?  Not really. If you think about what I just said, she is testing to see what reaction she's going to get.  


Is the reaction she's going to get going to match the calmness, the kindness, the measured words, the boundary holding that he's been practicing? 


The collaborative parenting, the methodology that I teach, or is she going to get  the big reaction that she actually expects?  And he stayed calm. Oh, this dad, he's doing such an amazing job. He stayed calm, but you know what else?  He didn't do anything. He just kept letting her. 

And then she looked at him, and this shows you how in touch she is. She's a thinker, and said, “Why aren't you mad?”  She's looking for this information. So what would you do in that situation?  You're conscious,  you're calm.  You're a self aware parent, grandparent,  foster parent, teacher. You're listening to this because that's who you are.

And that's who you want to be in relationship to kids.  So what would you do?  It's hard stuff, right? It's almost one of those, “I don't know until I'm in it”. Well,  doing nothing  actually  sends a message  when we don't respond at all.  We are still communicating  a message  and that in this case,  permissiveness, right?

“Okay.  If this is how you need to express yourself right now, great. Go for it. I'll just sit here and take it”.  That's not what we want.  We don't want our kids to feel like when they're having, in this case, she was being very intentional and testing some boundaries, but even when they're in full meltdown mode, full tantrum mode, we don't want them to believe that moving feelings through their body by physically attacking other people is the right answer. 


We want them to know they can move feelings through their body, but that everybody needs to stay safe while it's happening. 


Right?  So in this case, a non response is equally damaging as a reactive angry response.  So what do we do?  That's the big question, right?  We want to keep our kids feeling safe enough to come to us. 


But also safety is actually the key here.  One of my favorite scripts  with kids, specifically ones who use their physical body to express their emotions, is “it's my job to keep you safe”. In the classroom I used this all the time.  “It's my job to keep you safe. It's my job to keep your friend safe. But you know what else, it's my job to keep myself safe”. 


Let's say that one again. It's my job to keep myself safe.  That is a powerful sentence.  This is the message it sends: 


I matter. I am taking ownership and autonomy over my body and how people approach it.  And how people touch it.  


You want your child to hear that message? Of course you do.  It also becomes, over time, their mental script. 


I get to keep my own body safe.  


And you want that, you want that rolling around in their beautiful little brain.  


So what I did, what I coached him through was to say that. Stay self aware, stay conscious, stay calm, keep your voice calm, all the things that you know.  But just to say that  “You're kicking me.  I don't like how that feels. It's my job to keep myself safe.  If you keep kicking me, I will move.  I will move to another part of the room”. 

She keeps kicking. I don't think this is what happened, but let's just follow it down the rabbit hole.  And then you say, “Oh, you're still choosing to kick me.  I will move my body to a different room. When you feel you're ready to hug and snuggle, be calm and kind to my body, I'll be ready. You just let me know”.

How does that feel?  Different right? I'm not saying that your little one is going to react well to that I don't know in that moment. They might really be wanting to poke and push but the cooler and calmer that you can stay And keep incrementally moving your body incrementally saying these scripts  and setting this as a belief system  in this house. 


It's my job to keep myself safe and it's my job to keep you safe.  


This is going to solidify what I call those core four connectors in the relationship you're building.  Because the methodology works when the relationship is rock solid.  Kids need to believe your words. They need to be able to trust what you're saying. They need to be able to respect that when you make a decision, you're going to keep it. There's a follow through there,  and they need to be able to communicate openly with you, even if sometimes they try it with their legs instead of their words.  This relationship is how you manage the bigger conversations, the bigger behaviors, the more challenging interactions as they grow up. 

And it's what I'm here to help you anchor during those early, early years of life.  

If you're struggling with any type of what we just described, if you're struggling with transitions or huge, massive tantrums, I highly recommend you go grab my tantrum free transition guide. 

It is totally free to you and it's going to help you set your kids up for smoother transitions and less tantrums along the way so that when they really are emotionally dysregulated, you're going to be able to show up better for them.



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