Parenting Strategies for Children Who Push
Our five-year-old daughter is generally kind and considerate. However, she tends to push other children around on the playground, sometimes causing them to fall. How should I handle this?
Reacting to the Push
Remember our mantra: Parenting is equipping your children with the tools to succeed in life. I remember watching one of our daughters handle a similar scenario with her own daughter who was still learning how to play gently, especially with younger ones. One day at our house her five-year-old got overly excited and pushed her two-year-old sister from behind. This caused her to hit her head on a piece of furniture and required stitches. We noticed our daughter working really hard not to get really upset at her 5-year-old in the heat of the moment. Instead, she turned her attention to caring for her injured toddler.
This allowed her 5-year-old to observe and process the effect of her actions. She could experience compassion for her crying sister instead of retreating with feelings of shame. Our daughter knew that if she tried to correct or reprimand her 5-year-old in the moment she would project her own fear and panic that a parent experiences when one of her children is in deep pain. Then later, her 5-year-old’s heart was in a perfectly open place for a calm talk. She was able to feel sorry for pushing. Since her brain was not flooded with “flight or fight” urges that can often accompany shame, she was able to understand the vital need to be careful and gentle.
Learning from Mistakes
Yet, the teaching does not stop there. The life lesson we wanted her to learn is: it’s not the mistakes you make that count, it’s how you handle those mistakes and turn them into good and make a difference. That being sorry and changing behavior is important, but how can we “make it right?”
While her little sister was healing from her bump and stitches on the forehead, the pusher became the “nurse”. She was there to help change the bandages, to say nice things to the person she hurt, to hold her hand, and to play nicely with her the whole rest of the week. During that week we saw a transformation occurring as our five-year-old granddaughter was showing sincere empathy and compassion for pushing and causing her (mostly) beloved sister to get injured. That turned out to be a bonding experience between both that is continuing well into their teens.
“How Would You Feel If…?”
Also, with attachment parenting, you can frequently add an empathy tool to your daughter’s toolbox for life. One of the top empathy tools we taught all of our children was: “How would you feel if…?” “How would you feel if someone pushed you down and you got hurt?” Couple that with “think through what you’re about to do” which also teaches little pushers to think before they act.
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Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”