Gentle Hands, Please

Gentle hands, please.

Kind hands, please.

I get it, I really do. Kind of.

Let me start by saying I like these phrases. I like how it is a more positive and encouraging way of saying please for the love of god stop whacking me around the face! I like the idea of turning something a negative into a positive – of not focusing on the fact that they have done something bad, and instead showing them how to do it better. It is such a fantastic way to teach and to learn, and I believe even us adults need to start incorporating it more into our lives. It’s so easy for us to nitpick and point out what hasn’t been done to our standards, rather than explaining how we would have preferred it so people know for next time.

What I don’t understand, is why I am being told to use these phrases with a toddler who hasn’t even turned two yet. Or rather, why I should be expecting him to understand. The idea of the repetition, so that they begin to pick up on the idea that they shouldn’t be pinching their cousin to get attention, is a good one in the long term. But that’s just it, it’s going to be the long-term, and it’s got to be more than just words.

I’m sorry, but at 20 months old my son is not going to understand what the words kind and gentle mean. He will learn, of course he will, but right now at this moment he just gives me a look that plainly says what the hell are you going on about Mummy? and carries on what he is doing. If I say no thank you, on the other hand, he totally gets it. I mean, he does continue to do what he’s not supposed to be doing, but with a cheeky grin to show that he does, in fact, know that what he is doing is wrong.

I guess it all comes back to the age-old show, don’t tell. How can we expect our children to understand what it means to be kind and gentle when we don’t act that way ourselves? We can’t teach the meanings of words to children so young, without showing them what it actually means. Take T for example. He knows that if he cries he (generally – we are catching on to his tricks!) gets picked up and gets a cuddle. Now, if he sees anyone cry, he points at them, says oh no, and wants to give them a cuddle. They learn by example.

Think about this for a moment. If I were to ask you what gentle means, how would you describe it? You can picture it I’m sure, but it’s incredibly difficult to find words to describe it that don’t then need describing themselves. It is much easier to show gentleness than to explain it.

When T sees Daddy asleep in the morning and wants to wake him, he can be quite forceful. He is happy to climb all over him and shake him and shout DADDY DADDY DADDY at the top of his lungs. He also likes to hit him. Now I completely understand this need to hit, as I’m sure anyone does who tries to wake someone who refuses to be woken! But obviously that is not behaviour that we want to be advocating. So every time I see him hitting, I say no, gentle hands, look and I stroke Daddy’s arm. I then hold T’s hand and show him how to strong Daddy’s arm too. We have been doing it for so long that now, in the mornings, he only gets a couple of hits in before remembering to stroke instead.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a long-winded, this-winding-country-road-definitely-wasn’t-a-shortcut kind of way, is don’t expect young children to understand words that we cannot even explain ourselves. Show them how it’s done, don’t just yell in frustration because you don’t think they are listening. The likelihood is that they are listening, they just don’t understand!

Show, don’t tell.




(But yes, tell too)


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