However, while my daughter has been very focused on language development and communication, her empathy levels are right where every other toddler's are: nonexistent, or nearly so. I can tell her I'm sad because she hit her brother a gazillion times and she will sit there gleefully thwacking him again and again. Redirection is a wonderful tactic, and for every parent who is able to muster the energy and creative function to do this every single time, I offer serious applause.
I am not one of those parents.
About a month ago, I was folding laundry in my bedroom when chaos reached new heights. James had something that belonged to him, and Violet wanted it. They argued about it for quite a while, at least in terms of small-child-time. Being the caring and attentive mom that I am, I practiced my favorite parenting technique: willful ignorance. It became more and more difficult to practice, though, the louder it got, until I was finally forced to realize that Violet was hitting her brother, repeatedly.
I tried the nice route. "Violet. Gentle. Please be gentle with your brother." Yes, she knows exactly what the word "gentle" means. Gentle means the dog won't snap at you for being an obnoxious twerp! She does this weird thing, though, when I tell her, "Gentle." She will hit or pinch herself - hard! - and say "Ouch!" So I'm comfortable in the knowledge that she knows the difference. Evidently she just likes to demonstrate it on herself - and on her brother.
She pulled the self-inflicted "ouch" card twice before resuming hitting her brother. How hard can a one year old hit, really? Truthfully, not very hard - but hard enough to be annoying. Plus, what's not hard to me, the grownup, is certainly hard to James, the four year old, without question. Although you'd never know that, if you only talk to James about it.
Why do I say that? Because after a round of "Violet, I'm sad that you're hitting your brother. You're hurting him. That's making him sad. Okay, Violet, now I'm getting mad. Please stop hitting your brother. I need James to feel happy. I need you to stop hitting your brother," I was at the end of my rope. Finally, I raised my voice. Dramatically.
"VIOLET! STOP HITTING YOUR BROTHER RIGHT NOW!"
She stopped. And promptly burst into tears.
I had no sympathy. Who could, really, when she'd been an assault weapon for the past several minutes?
James, that's who. The kid who had been covering his head with his hands to shield himself from toddler violence glared at me disapprovingly. "Mom. You should not yell at Violet!"
I threw up my hands in the air. "Okay, James, but I tried to be nice! I wanted her to stop hitting you! And I couldn't figure out how else to do it!"
He looked at me, his face serious. "Well, you need to come up with another way of dealing with it."
And with that, my morality police officer and his violent little minion sister stalked out of my room, together.