“Stop being such a child!” is a frustrated cry aimed at so many of us adults. We all sometimes behave like toddlers, some of us more often than others, and exhibit the kind of behaviour I as a mother am trying to stop my children using.
Whether it’s stropping because we can’t have the thing we want, whinging because things aren’t going our way, or punching someone in the face because they touched your stuff. To lesser or greater extents, all adults sometimes unleash their inner naughty child.
What I want to ensure in my children is that by the time they reach adulthood, all the negative aspects of their childness have been thoroughly dealt with. That if they do have a tantrum it’s not the kind that saboutages their relationships and careers, and doesn’t leave them in prison.
But how do I do it?
Miss Rose and Z, my daughter and step-son, are both great kids in so many ways, and they’re also kids who have behavioural tendencies that in adults would be truly problematic. So, like all threenagers, they’re gorgeous little monsters. For the sake of this I will focus on Miss Rose as she is the one I spend most time parenting.
Like many mums I find comfort in things that are considered “normal” child behaviour. If Rose tantrums in a super market I take heart that mums around the world are dealing with their child in a similar state. If she is stamping and blowing rasperries at me, I know I’m not the only mum who wants to scream into a pillow. When she won’t settle to sleep without trying to force herself to stay awake despite being exhausted, I know I’m not the only one dreaming of a cold glass of wine and a minute’s peace.
I also like to know what is, for want of a better word, “abnormal”. If there are habits or behaviours she exhibits that are definitely not shared by mums everywhere every day, I want to know so I can look for outside intervention. For instance, she went through a spell of having quite severe pica, or eating things that aren’t food. She would eat towels, books, carpet. I asked my mummy friends if any of their children did this and they said no, so we went to the doctors and it was discovered she’s anaemic. Iron treatment and bam, the weird eating is gone.
Obviously all “abnormal” things should be looked into by medical professionals, and I would always advise that if you think something your child does isn’t “right” get it checked. You might get reassured that everything is fine, which is great, but you also might get the same results as us and need treatment. But don’t leave it.
But what of the “normal” behaviours?
“Don’t worry, that’s totally normal.” I’ll be told when exclaiming in frustration about her throwing something across the room in frustration, or kicking her feet so hard in a tantrum that she hurts me.
Yes, it’s totally normal. But it’s still not okay and, if left unchecked, will result in her not learning to stop. If she doesn’t learn to stop, she will end up sad and alone as an adult because nobody will want to be around her.
Miss Rose is fiercely intelligent. Scarily so. It won’t be long before she’s far smarter than I am and then I don’t know what I’m going to do. Because she’s smart, she spots opportunities for mischief extremely quickly. And she’s good at being sneaky. For instance, Z went running past her last night and, quick as a flash, she stuck her foot out and tripped him. Now, fortunately, he wasn’t hurt. He landed on the carpet, looked a bit confused, then got up and ran on. He didn’t even realise it had happened. But if he’d smacked his head onto the table leg? If we had been outside on concrete rather than inside on soft carpet? Or, as is my worry, she was an adult and saw an opportunity to hurt the person who has been winding her up all day and, super fast, she took it. Instead of her brother tripping onto the carpet and not noticing, it could be a friend or colleague she hurts in some way in, what is essentially, vengeance.
As a three year old tripping her three year old brother it is relatively innocuous. Nobody was hurt and, in honesty, I don’t think she would set out to hurt just to annoy. Just to wind up. And it’s “totally normal”. I have enough mummy friends on Facebook to know that it’s totally normal.
But does that make it okay? No. Does it make it something I shouldn’t deal with? No.
Having a strop because you can’t have the right juice cup as a child is “totally normal”. Having a strop as an adult because you can’t sit in your favourite chair at the table is petty and annoying.
Throwing a plastic block across the floor because you’ve been told you have to share with someone else is “totally normal”. Throwing a glass at your partner because they’ve told you they’re leaving you is dangerous and aggressive.
Punching someone in the face because they took your toy dinosaur is “normal behaviour”, however horrible. Punching someone in the face because they hit on your girlfriend is potentially deadly and seriously wrong.
All these behaviours translate into adult versions. And they’re adult versions we see in the adults we dislike the most. The adults we avoid.
My goal for Miss Rose is not for me to have an easy time whilst she’s a child. It’s not getting by with the least effort I need to make. My goal for her is to have a happy, fulfilled adulthood with loving relationships.
If behaviour is totally normal it’s easy to shrug it off and say it’ll be fine, they’ll grow out of it. It’ll be fine it’s just a phase. It’ll be fine, all kids do it.
Yes all kids do it, but so do some adults, and no they might not grow out of it and it might not just be a phase.
Miss Rose has a beautiful personality, warm, loving and funny, but she has a naughty side. I want the beautiful personality to be what she carries into adulthood so, even though it’s nice to know that her behaviour isn’t potentially something bigger that needs help, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need addressing. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give her hell when she snatches or throws things. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t remove her from the room where the fun is until she calms down and we can discuss it. It doesn’t mean I should not bother working on her flaws because other kids have the same ones.
And if they are doing something that is potentially not “normal” then you can still get them ready for a happy adulthood, you just both might need a little help along the way. And that’s okay. Sometimes we all need help. I’m certainly glad I sought it.
It makes life stressful at times. I’m so desperate for her adulthood to be happy that I give myself very little slack on her childhood. But it seems to be working. She’s awesome. She’s naughty and mischevious and sneaky and stroppy but she’s awesome. And when she grows she will have learned that the negative consequences make the bad behaviour not worth it and her understanding of why things are bad will stop them appealing anyway. Or at least that’s what I’m going for and I think that’s what we should all be going for!
Kids are hard work and it’s great to know other mums are in the same boat as us, but it doesn’t mean we should leave that boat without a paddle. They need steering, they need guidance, and they need us to remember they’re adults for a lot longer than they are children, and it’s our job to prepare them for that.