The Pun[ch] Game. All fun No Tears for Toddler Impulses.

One day recently my two year old grandson punched me.  I handled it in the same way I handled my own children when they bit or hit me at that age.

I said, “Oh, you want to play the Punching Game.”  He said,  “Yes.”  We started swinging,  pretending to punch each other.  We did not hit each other. At first, I would just touch (not hit)  him occasionally with my fist until I realize that he was not touching me at all.  So I stopped touching him.

He delighted in this game, giggling and laughing.  He would swing his arms in the air, twirled around several times and then fall to the ground all the time laughing.  I followed his lead. From my knees, I would swing my arms, grunting as I made each “punch”.  When he fell to the ground, I would ‘fall over’ by dropping my head to the ground.  The game evolved as we played it over and over. He made changes.  After he dropped to the ground he began to wiggle over and put his head between my knees and my head.  We would look at each other ‘eyeball to eyeball’.  I would say ‘hello’ and we would laugh.  Then, we would get up and do it all over again.  He loves this game.  I especially love the moment when we are eyeball to eyeball.

He still asks me to play the ‘pun game’.  He can’t say ‘punch’ so it took me a while to figure out what he was asking.

Nobody gets hit. Nobody gets hurt.  We just have a lot of laughs when we play it.

Young children have impulses and urges they are learning to control.  Often they are told they are bad when they hit and bite. Their parents’ harsh tone of voice and angry facial expressions are distressing to them. That is hard on their self esteem. The behavior is not OK and needs to be shifted into positive behavior.  I believe that it is much better to channel their impulses into a healthy game so that they are not made to feel wrong or bad.

At one point when my boys were very little, both of them bit me.  I said, “Oh you want to play the ‘bite’ game.  Let’s take turns.”  I offered my hand and immediately pulled it away when I got bitten, complaining loudly – Ow ow ow ow ow!  Then I said, “It’s my turn.”  In a friendly way, I took their hand and I bit it, hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to harm.  It did not take many turns of this for them to say they did not want to play the ‘bite’ game anymore.

Note to parents: if you cannot do this in the spirit of a fun game then don’t do it.

When they wanted to stop I said, “OK, let’s not play the ‘bite’ game.  Let’s do something else.”  I did not admonish or chastise them.  It was just a game.  This stopped the biting and hitting.

What I found interesting about my grandson was, after the first ‘punch’ he did not make contact at all when we played the game.  I followed his lead.  He has stopped punching me but, with great delight, we still play the Pun Game.

Protect your little one’s self esteem.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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