by Polly Hall
Raise your hand if your kid has ever hit another kid.
Pushed another kid? Bitten another kid? Hit, pushed or bit you? Okay, if you didn’t raise your hand you can go to a different party. Because this party is for people who need a glass of wine and you and your perfect life can just… go be perfect in your super clean house. If you have a baby who can’t move yet, you can stay.
Anyway, sometimes kids are the worst. No, I’m kidding. I have a podcast for kids, so obviously I love them. But kids are AWFULLY physical, am I right? And so we just released Ear Snacks: Hands! - an episode where we ask kids - what can hands do? What shouldn’t hands do?
Whether they are bouncing off the walls, roughhousing or even hitting, children have to use their bodies to connect to the world around them. For us parents, that can be hard. Sometimes we get it. Sometimes it drives us nuts. Sometimes we don’t even know what to do.
If you live in my zip code you have probably witnessed my kid being "the worst," so I’m not going to pretend to have any real answers, but I will say that one of my favorite ways of addressing problematic behavior in our house is with books. Now there are definitely “issue books,” but what I’m talking about is reading books that address the need your child is showing you when he or she becomes physically A LOT.
So, here are eight books that help with bad behavior. And good luck.
EIGHT BOOKS FOR BAD BEHAVIOR*
PS - I'm linking these books on Amazon, but check them out at your library or go out and support your local bookseller if you can!
Shadow by Suzy Lee
Shadows come to life during play in this wonderful book from Suzy Lee, where kids can get a visual representation of rough play that goes too far. A boot’s shadow becomes a wild thing that plays too rough and disrupts the game; the other shadows become afraid and the boot cries in a moment of loneliness. The other shadows invite it back to play again. There's a limit to what's okay - and when a child hits she is telling you that she doesn't understand what the limit is. There's that, plus the empathy the other characters show for the boot - that's why this book a favorite in our house, especially if there has been a bite (given or received). There are no words in this book, which makes it a great story for your child to unload his or her feelings.
C is for Curious - An ABC of Feelings by Woodleigh Hubbard
Another great book without words - this is my go-to when we’ve had a tough event or a bad day and I know we need to talk about something but I'm not sure what exactly that is. This book is great because it builds vocabulary for feelings, which eventually take the place of those hits, bites and pushes. When a child hits, he is telling you he can't use words to express the way he feels. Another reason this book is great is that it gives you clues to the puzzle of your child’s emotional state. We can’t peer inside their little brains, but this is a tool that might give you a glimpse. Here's a helpful tip: rather than reading the pages, turn them into questions. What's happening in this picture? What do you think that animal is feeling? What does nervous mean?
You Don’t Always Get What You Hope For by Rick Walton & Heidi Stetson Mario
In this throwback book, a kid wants toast and juice for breakfast but ends up zipping around a bizarre adventure - but one thing is clear: it's all out of his control. When a child hits or bites, she is telling you she cannot control herself - and, perhaps, she can't control the world. I can’t tell you the number of play-ground and weekend meltdowns that got physical and ended in “I didn’t want that,” or “I didn’t like it when…” Whether your child wanted to play with something, didn’t like what you made for dinner, wanted different pants, or just got a new sibling, at some point kids need to grapple with how some things are within their control and some things are not. This is a no-pressure book exactly about that. Gentle enough for little readers but better for the slightly older crowd.
Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick & Marieka Heinlein
- For those of you who are interested in an actual “issues book,” this is my favorite - because far and above books that address behavior, this one gets to the issue itself. When a child hits, she is showing you that she needs help. She has a big feeling to get out and cannot verbalize it. She gets worked up and… BAM! Now imagine if you could separate the big feeling and the BAM by a few minutes. You would let that heart rate come down and come up with words instead. That’s why this book is great - it shows kids concrete things they can do when they are upset - which gives them time to put the words together so they can express their feelings.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Children don’t want to hurt their peers, but they often can’t stop themselves from doing it. Becoming empathetic happens slowly, but eventually children start to understand and share the feelings of another. In this book, every animal sees a cat from their own perspective. My child loves this book for the quiet way we read it, the difference in the illustrations, and because cats - which, ew, don’t even get me started, but I know some of you like ‘em and I EMPATHIZE, OKAY.
Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein
Stick with me because this is a deep cut, but I think this stretch is going to be worth it. First of all, this is my all-time favorite first birthday present - but we read it not only around birthday time, we also read it when my child is clearly experiencing the pains of getting bigger. It’s hard to grow up. The rules change. Responsibilities. And expectations. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that it manifests itself in an uglier way. So before you ground your pre-schooler, give him a minute. Maybe all your child wants to hear is, "I know, it’s hard to get bigger. Everyone will still love you."
Yup, it’s not a book. But screens are good at being screens and I say everything in moderation (though I get it if you don’t feel that way). I know there are lots of great new shows, but there's nothing like Mister Rogers for talking to kids about a tough issue and in this case there are a couple of options - "Things to Do with Our Hands that Don't Hurt" on DVD & "Mad Feelings with Stomp" on iTunes.
Also not a book, but here's something for you - a great episode of Janet Lansbury's podcast, "Respectful Parenting." This episode is all about aggressive toddler behavior - hitting, biting and spitting.
Annnnnd, might as well just mention Ear Snacks one more time. What can hands do? What shouldn't hands do? We ask our friends those questions and talk to a professional stunt woman about how it feels to get hurt. All that plus some fun games and a big, big song.
*They aren't all books.