Rough Touches Continue

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Parent Question

Question here based on the Just a Minute Rough Touches session you did. When my 18 month old hits or scratches her dad or my face, usually while we are carrying her, we grab her hand and say, “That’s too rough.” followed by a “Do you need to be rough? Let’s go find something you can be rough with.” (Of course, she’s never rough with the thing we find ;-). Should we always do this or is there a time when we should put her down and say, “I don’t like rough touches and you keep doing it. I think we need some space.” or should we always offer the former alternative? I’m not sure what the harm is in the latter; she learns “If I do X behavior repeatedly, I face an outcome I don’t like,” but perhaps this is not developmentally the best thing to do?

Our Answer

Thanks for reaching out I am glad you did. It sounds like you are misinterpreting her need and when you cue into it you’ll find a solution.

Her behavior is communication so instead of punishing it by removing your attention, understand the communication. Once you understand it you will be able to teach her how to get her needs met more effectively and kindly. That said, you are completely within your rights to protect your own safety and comfort. So if you choose to say, “I don’t like that, I need space,” out of a genuine need, you will model how to draw boundaries. This doesn’t teach her how to meet her need but it does demonstrate a healthy boundary for meeting your needs.

The best solution is to teach. Draw the boundary, “I won’t let you scratch me, it’s too rough.” AND “I think you might need…” So you have been guessing she wants to be rough but if it’s not working that’s not what she wants. Here are some other ideas of things she needs: connection, play, rest, food, empathy, calm skills, etc. So walking through those I would say the “need to be rough” is about a need for a “sensory input or experience” in which case squeezing playdough might replace squeezing, pinching bubble wrap might replace pinching, punching a pillow might replace punching, etc but gentle won’t likely replace punching. Just check that what you’re offering as a rough alternative has a likeness to the sensory experience.

Then check the emotion if it a playful connecting emotion, teach her how to engage you in play. Show her how to ask for play, how to engage in play, and be clear of the boundaries of play.

If the emotion is overwhelm check on basic needs like rest and food, she cannot choose another behavior if she is hungry or tired because her brain doesn’t have the capacity to do so. (When she gets older she will but not yet.)

If she is frustrated, the need is empathy. Give empathy then teach her how to get empathy without hurting, by asking for a hug for example. If she is excited then teach her skills to calm that don’t involve letting out that excitement in a hurtful way, high fives, hoorays, and clapping, share excitement without hurting others.

You caught your desire to punish which is awesome. Now see what the learning opportunities might be. The harm in the suggestion you offer isn’t really harm but rather a missed opportunity, if you set her down she sees the “I face and outcome I don’t like.” and she might choose not to “do behavior X repeatedly” but then two things: She is left on her own with how to meet the need that lead to the behavior, she isn’t doing this randomly, she’s communicating through her behavior. And if she chooses not to do the behavior in your scenario, she is doing it out of a selfish desire to avoid a negative outcome, not a connected understanding of her needs, ways to meet her needs, and the understanding that others too have needs and boundaries. Remember not to beat yourself up for responding with “That’s too rough, I need space” because it does model a strong boundary but to teach in moment when you and her have the ability to learn which might actually be the moment of the rough touch or a little later to reflect on it. You are a great mom, she lucky to have you. Enjoy it and please reach out if there is anything you need.

Parent Reflection

Wow, wow and more wow! This is fantastic and Exactly what I needed to hear to understand what to do. I completely agree that she’s communicating when she’s scratching us and now that I think about it, I think it’s mostly trying to get our attention if we’re talking to one another or not doing what she wants. She’s also usually good about letting us know when we’ve “hit upon” the right thing so offering her several examples other than “do you need to be rough?” is going to go a long way. I love learning about this stuff and you have a wonderful way of teaching it.

Final Note:

Glad it could help! So if you know what she wants is your attention then you think about how you want to teach her to get it in a respectful way. Eventually that might sound like, “Excuse me mom, I need some connection time.” or “Excuse me dad, I feel left out of the conversation.” Knowing where you are going there are a few steps before you get there. Non-verbal now, tap my shoulder. Then one or two words, excuse me. Then trying to connect her with needs, excuse me I feel/need. And don’t forget if you need space it’s fine to say that just go back after everyone calms and teach the skills.

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