I see it happen from across the room. My daughter’s arms stretched out straight in front of her. Another little girl skidding backward and tumbling toward the floor. I'm on my feet even before she lands, heading toward them, calling my daughter’s name. As usual, there was no warning. A second ago, they were smiling and dancing together. My daughter in her purple leotard and tiny ballet slippers. The other girl in a pink tutu with a matching headband. This is a ballet class for two-year-olds. (Yes, I know. It’s like herding cats.)
I reach my daughter in about three seconds and hold her close to me. “No pushing,” I say sternly for the thousandth time this week. “I can’t let you do that. Pushing is not okay. You need to use words.”
I turn to the other child, who has dissolved into tears. “Are you okay, honey?” Unharmed but upset, the little girl runs to her nanny, a hard-faced, middle-aged woman, who begins soothing her without looking at me.
I continue the conversation I have been having with my two-year-old daughter several times a day for a couple of weeks now. It goes like this: 1) Pushing is not okay. 2) You pushed that girl, and it made her feel really sad. Look, she’s crying. 3) Pushing can hurt people, and that’s not okay. 4) Did you want to play with that girl? Or, did you want her to move away from you? You need to say those things with words instead of pushing.
So, now I’m done playing nice. I’m done apologizing. My kid is two. End of story.
My daughter nods. She’s heard this before. If she were a few years older, she would probably roll her eyes at me. I try to get my point across. “If you’re not ready to be in dance class with the other kids without pushing them, we will go outside and take a break.”
“I’m ready,” she promises. “I’ll be nice.”
“Okay. Let’s go see if that girl is all right and say sorry to her.”
We head over to where the pink tutu girl is still sniffling in her nanny’s arms. I flash an apologetic smile, as if to say, ‘Toddlers, man. So frustrating, right?’ I get nothing in return. The nanny doesn’t look at me. Knowing this will end the “no pushing” lecture, my daughter recites her apology. “Sorry, I pushed you.” The nanny glares down at her and gestures to the child in her arms. “This girl is a nice girl,” she says to my daughter. “This girl doesn’t get in fights with other kids. Leave her alone.”
I feel a rush of anger. My face goes hot. The ballet music roars loudly through the speakers. I suddenly want to scream at this woman, “Don’t speak to my child like that! I’m standing right here!” Instead I pick up my daughter, turn around, and march out of the room.
“Are we taking a break?” my daughter asks.
“Yes,” I answer though clenched teeth. “Mommy needs one.”
I wish I could say I was shocked by this experience, but it’s all too familiar to me. My toddler has been going through a pushing phase. It’s frustrating, but it’s completely normal. I’m addressing it in the best way I know how. But the worst part isn’t my daughter’s irritating, but very common developmental behavior.
It’s the reactions that we get from other adults. The disapproval. The judgment. The outright meanness. As if people had never seen a toddler before who wasn’t in complete control of her body and emotions.
There was the mom who told me that her son would never act “aggressive” because she always behaved so calmly around him. There was the nanny who instantly gathered up her sand toys and walked away from us without a word, dragging another two-year-old who had been throwing handfuls of sand at people. There was the grandmother who yelled, “Say sorry!” in my daughter’s face.
So, now I’m done playing nice. I’m done apologizing. My kid is two. End of story. Her rational brain isn't developed enough to control her emotional impulses. She’s still learning social skills. Pushing is a phase like any other. No one is going to the ER. Get a grip!
And if you don’t like it, we can step outside.