No, I promise you, it isn’t.
Hitting isn’t a phase. Biting isn’t a phase. Taking other children’s toys is not a phase. Being persistently rude is not a phase.
I’ve only ever heard this line of reasoning used as a weak rationalization of unacceptable behavior– particularly popular among mothers of toddlers or teenagers. And it’s a line of reasoning that prevents us from nipping potential problems in the bud and prevents us from identifying the true source of these problems: namely, us, the parents.
Sure, there natural disposition affects their behavior some. Sure, they pick up some habits from their friends. But who is it that teaches our children how to act? Who is it that our children spend their entire days with? Who is it that rules their entire world? The sun rises and sets with us as far as a children are concerned, and at the end of the day we are largely responsible for the behaviors of our young children in particular. We will be held legally accountable at any rate. There’s a reason for that.
Initially when we recognize that we are primarily responsible for all the unproductive behaviors of our children, it pretty much sucks. I get that. I watched my parents go through that realization when I was 19. And at 19, there was very little they could do about it at that point. I was well on my way to independence and adulthood. But for those of us with small children, once we get past the bitter taste of responsibility, this is actually wonderful news. That means that our children do not have to live with their selfish and wild behavior. There are no prison sentences here. It means we can actually teach them how to be happy. I mean, huzzah! That’s like the best news you’ve had all year, right?
If you have ever had the particular pleasure of interacting with an entitled adult, then you know firsthand that children do not outgrow selfishness. If you let them take other kids toys now it may seem like an innocent thing, but they will spend the rest of their lives thinking that they deserve other people’s toys, be it their jobs, spouses, or fancy cars. What principles are we teaching our children through each and every mundane step of the day? To us it may seem inconsequential, but to our children we are literally shaping their entire worlds, whether be bother to be aware of the fact or not.
What kids need above all are 1) to be loved and 2) to be taught with absolute, unflagging consistency. Love is something you can, in fact, teach but not something I personally can teach very well over a blog post. Call me if you want more on that one.
And so #2. Once you decide what principles you want your child to understand, you can falter from them just about never. For reference, my daughter Zoe is a full-fledged toddler at 18 months old and she does not hit, take other kids toys, push, or throw temper tantrums. No, I’m not a better person than anyone else. No, she’s not a better person than anyone else. I say this merely to illustrate that it is actually possible.
The popular theory among other parents is that Zoe was just born naturally mild, kind, and responsible. Ha. Laughable. Ask my husband. Actually, I believe all children are born naturally kind. But it takes no time at all for us to beat it out of them. No, I’ve actually had to put in a LOT of time, energy and love into raising Zoe and teaching her these principles. But again, she’s not some freak of nature. These are things that can and should be taught to every kid on the planet, although it does become considerably more difficult the older they get.
Back to #2. If children do not have absolute consistency in their lives, you can kiss goodbye any lesson that you ever hoped to teach them. They learn that the world is topsy turvy, has no rhyme or reason save what mood mom is in today. If they throw a tantrum and you give in just once and let them have another bag of goldfish or fruit snacks, they just learned, “Oh. I just have to kick and scream loud enough for long enough– preferrably in a public place– before Mom will give me what I want.” They’re not malicious, just practical. If you let them grab another kid’s toy out of their hands and play with it even for a minute, they’ve just learned that there is a payoff. They’ll continue grabbing toys because they might get to enjoy them for a bit.
And in response to the, “That’s great but that would never work with MY child,” argument, yes, yes it really would. Zoe has tried every typical toddler behavior there is. I never let her get away with it. Not for my sake, but for hers. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that you can steal other people’s things if you cry loudly enough. If she can’t pick up her own toys at a year and a half, how is she ever going to work a 9 to 5 job? I want my daughter to be happy and responsible, and if that means that I let her throw a tantrum for a full hour before she’ll pick up a piece of food that she threw on the floor, then shoot, that’s what it takes.
And yes, I’ve actually done that with her. Only had to do it twice, mind you. Kids learn fast.
Most people never see what goes on behind the scenes with raising Zoe because before she ever gets to the point of acting out on the playground, she exhbits these behaviors in ten tiny ways at home and we correct it every single time. By the time we get out in public, she’s got the lesson down. I have to work at it with her just like every other parent.
Today, for example, she hit me playfully while I was holding her at home. I put her down immediately. We don’t hit. Zoe fussed. I asked her if she was done hitting and when she stopped crying a couple seconds later, picked her up again. She hit again and we went through the same thing. Not rocket science. Just untiring consistency.
Later on in our playroom, Zoe had a meltdown when I told her we were leaving. A full on, unconsolable meltdown. I checked the time. It was an hour past her nap time. My bad. Of course our children will act out when their needs aren’t met. I would, too. I do, in fact. I’m just lucky I’m not chained to some adult that views me as an inconvenience and grumbles about it anytime I get hungry or sleepy. Yes, children are inconvenient. But then again, I knew that before having Zoe. That’s exactly what I signed up for. And is there really any single task more important than loving and raising our kids?
Nah. Not really.
And aside from some weird phobias of other people touching their hair, or the texture of sand (both of which Zoe has right now), it is not just a passing phase. Identify the problem and do something about it. Let’s raise our children with diligent, loving concern.
BY THE BY, if any of what I’m saying makes sense to you (or if it doesn’t and you want to know where I get these crazy ideas from) I recommend two books: The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (there’s one for babies and one for toddlers, both are invalubale) and Real Love in Parenting. All of them are on Amazon.