Her first words were “Dadda”, “Agua” and—“No.” Very early she came home from the baby class at her Spanish immersion school, before she was even a year old, and shook her head side to side with a “No, no, no.” This was not something she’d learned from us; the three consecutive “Nos” with the disapproving head wag were something she’d picked up from Ms. Alma, her teacher at school.
When she was 17 months we came across a pair of siblings arguing in the aisle at a store. The brother gave his sister a good kick in the leg and Bilingual Baby boldly stepped up and pointed her finger and said “No, no, no.” Oh my. Whose bossy child is this?
Less cute is the phase she’s in now. “No” accompanied with a light swipe of the hand is her latest thing. Earlier this week the park was full of other children her age but she hit every single one she approached and said “No.” Every time she went up to a new child I knew what she was going to do, but I wanted to give her the chance to prove me wrong and do something else; I didn’t want her to feel like I expected her to be “bad.” Still, she never wavered—this was her greeting for everyone at the park.
In these situations I do what I think is best. I swoop in and tell Bilingual Baby she doesn’t need to hit her new friend, she can simply say “hi.” I tell her that it hurts her friend when she hits. And I tell her all of this in Spanish—unless I tell her in English. When it’s just the two of us I use Spanish because it’s our language, it’s what we speak to each other, we’re both in knee deep. But when I’m in a situation where my daughter has just hit another kid on the playground, I have the responsibility of not only redirecting my own child, but assuring both the victim and the victim’s parent that it’s being dealt with. I need the parent of the other child to know that I don’t think it’s OK for my child to go around hitting kids, and I need the kids being hit to know that they are safe—I won’t let her hit them again.
I’m still figuring this out, when to speak English to Jo and when to speak Spanish to her out in public. It’s a strange thing and I don’t want to confuse Jojo. I have a really good handle on the language (my resume says I’m fluent) but obviously, it’s not my native language. What must people think when they see me speaking Spanish to her?
Later in the week I went to the park again with Jo. I was nervous but I knew she would never get over this hitting phase at home. She needed to continue working through her baby anger issues. This time I sat with her on the ground near the playscape and we just watched the other kids. I didn’t take her over to the slide and ask if she wanted to go down it. I didn’t make her say “hi” to any new kids. I didn’t encourage her one way or the other to do anything. We just sat and observed and acclimated. Little by little I started describing what the other kids were doing, but not asking asking her to participate, just describing the sharing and friendly play that was taking place. Eventually, after a long while, she got up on her own and went over to the other kids and I stayed sitting (nervously) on the ground. She played beautifully, smiling and laughing and asking desperately with her body language to be included, but never hitting.
I think I may have been exacerbating her hitting phase by rushing her too abruptly into new situations (Come say “hi;” try out the slide; don’t you want to play?). I don’t think she’s magically cured of her hitting phase, but I think I know how to help her through it a little better. I hope this phase passes soon. It hurts my heart so.