In the last few weeks, my 18 month old girl has been behaving fiercely towards other babies at toddler groups and play dates. I have witnessed her putting her face up close and personal to the face of another baby of the same size or bigger, going tummy to tummy to shout at them. I have seen her flap her hands at them and say ” ‘way, ‘way” which means go away, go away. If she has been sitting in the Little Tikes Cosy Coupe or pushing a doll around in a pushchair, then to her mind those toys are hers and woe betide anyone who thinks that it’s permissable to play with them because she has let go of it momentarily. She has pushed, shouted, hit and flapped at quite a number of children.
Some people have said they suppose it’s to be expected because she has to fight for her space and her belongings as she has two big sisters. Let me assure you that this is a completely false assumption. My baby is so loved by her big sisters that I could bore you rigid with tales of how sweet, patient, generous and loving they are towards her. In our house, that baby has never had to fight for any toy, book or plaything. The big girls do remove scissors and felt pens from her grip of course: the first is obviously a necessity and the second is because we have all seen her turn herself into the tattood-lady in super quick time with multi-coloured pen strokes when she gained illegal access to a marker pen. This baby of ours is loved beyond the beyonds. She just happens to be going through a territory-marking phase with human beings of a similar size to herself at the moment.
At toddler groups I am never more than five feet away from her and my eye is always on her. At the briefest threat of her looking askance at some other mother’s precious charge, I swoop in, move her away or make a barrier between her and the other child. If she manages to land a hit, push or shout in the interim seconds, I apologize, seek the other mother and if the child is a talker, explain briefly that she didn’t know she was hurting them but it still wasn’t ok and that I’m sorry. I don’t have guilt or an over reaction, because most babies do this at some point and so most mothers understand.
Toddler groups are weird places with weird politics and social conventions though.
Often, as well as being a perpetrator, my baby is the victim too. Today, a mother who afterward described her daughter as being ‘a complete demon’ at the moment, had to move her child’s hand from the skin of my baby’s face. I did that thing that mums do at toddler groups, and said, “Oh I know, they all do it,” and gave the woman a bit more attention than I gave my baby. I cuddled the baby and felt her warm tears smear on my face as our cheeks touched. I should have been alerted by the tears. My baby doesn’t usually cry tears. Usually there is a lot of noise and wailing but today there were fat, warm tears too.
After my meaningless platitudes and words of placation to the other mum so that she didn’t feel bad that her child had lashed out at mine, I cuddled and gently shhh’d my girl as I rubbed her back and held her close. She moved her face to hold the bridge of her nose, and I even smiled as she looked like an adult holding her brow.
A few minutes passes and she was playing again and I saw that she’d actually been scratched. Her top layer of skin had been scraped from the bridge of her nose in a shape that showed just how the other child’s nails had gouged the soft skin of her face. While my baby had been stinging and shocked from this little attack to her face, I had been comforting the other mother by playing down the incident and saying “Oh, they all do it.” Social niceties had come first, admittedly only narrowly ahead, but still! My baby was gouged and her face was cut. I pointed the scratch out to another mum, and she said that it had looked as if the other little girl had had quite a grip on my baby’s face.
There are no big lessons here. Babies do go through this phase. The other little girl wasn’t a baby though, so if I Ground-Hog-Day style repeated this moment, I would have gently pointed out the lesson of the scratched face to the other little girl. Be gentle with your hands, little one, I might have said, they can hurt people. Be kind and gentle, it’s not OK to hurt people. The other mother was so let off the hook by my placation of any discomfort or need to respond that she didn’t even speak to her little girl to say a word to her. No lesson was learnt and no experience learnt from. Except by me who learnt something about balancing social niceties and seeing what is going on for my children.
This is a lot of writing about one little scratch on the bridge of one little nose, isn’t it?! I’m kind of wondering at my reason and inspiration for writing it. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that even little hurts of body or feelings to our children land as big hurts to us, their parents. Much easier to be hurt ourselves than to see our children feeling or being hurt in some way.
And if you have your own baby going through a fierce-baby stage, cut their nails, stay close beside them and protect the innocent!