Now that Elvie is in full toddler mode, she has become incredibly enthusiastic about both exploring things and asserting her will. Both have left her with ample reasons to use physical touch, and it was no surprise that the little girl we jokingly call Baby Godzilla wasn’t very gentle with other people, animals, or fragile things. It’s not that she is mean spirited — she just needs a little guidance to learn to develop the motor skills necessary to be gentle and to know when she’s hurting someone. While some babies and toddlers seem to be naturally gentle, I’d venture to guess that most, like Elvie, need a little direction when it comes to controlling how forceful touch is and learning what might hurt someone or something else. Here are six things we’ve done to help Elvie learn to be gentle, that you can try with your toddler, too.
Teaching Toddlers Gentleness
There are six simple steps to try.
Be Gentle When Correcting
If your toddler is being a little too rough, use a gentle voice and show which body part you’d like them to use more gently by touching that part gently. For example, if Elvie has scratched her big sister, I’ll tap her fingertips lightly but firmly and say, “No, no, fingers. Be gentle with your fingers, please.”
Show Your Toddler How Gentle Feels
Allowing your child to experience how good gentle touch feels is key. Pat or caress your child gently and say, “This is gentle. My hand is being gentle to you.” As before, use a gentle voice while explaining.
Use Your Hands to Guide Theirs
Let your child feel how much force can be used by guiding their hands in gentle touch. Sometimes when I do this, Elvie will try to use a harder touch, but I hold her hand steady so she can apply the right pressure. If she has been rough with me, I do this right after she’s been rough so she can understand the difference between how she was using touch when she was rough and how it feels to use touch gently.
Let Them Know They're Doing It Right
While using your hands to guide theirs in being gentle, say, “You are being gentle! Nice job being gentle.” Even though you’re doing most of the work, this way they connect the gentler touch with affirmation.
Gain Skills Using Something That Can't Be Hurt
While it works to guide Elvie in using gentle touch with me, sometimes it’s best to keep the pets and other kids out of harm’s way until she’s had some practice. Using a beloved baby doll or stuffed toy is an excellent way to get practice being gentle.
Look for Success
The most effective affirmation I’ve given Elvie has been when she is being gentle on her own. She is so proud of herself for knowing what to do and how to do it that she tries to do it again and again, hoping I’ll notice. Go out of your way to make note of small ways your little one is being gentle and praise him or her for them. Gaining a new skill is big stuff for the toddler set, and your toddler will feel incredibly proud to have accomplished something new.