As a Parent Educator I am often asked the question “Is this normal?” Apparently we didn’t act the same way our children are acting today. Is this really true or have our parents just got terrible memories? I really feel for parents who have someone breathing down their necks making judgments about their kid’s behaviour. It might be their own parents, a childless sibling, a store clerk or even a teacher. As parents we can feel vulnerable enough without having to defend our children’s behavior and our parenting skills. I too was the perfect parent before I had kids and perhaps I will be again when they move out on their own.
If we don’t understand behavior we tend to magnify it making it much worse than it really is. We my even label our children as being spoiled or a problem. We might assume that they have intentions to test us or make our lives miserable. When we go there with our thinking we tend to overreact. Studies have indicated that these kinds of trigger thoughts fuel parental anger. When we understand our child’s behavior we can counter damaging thoughts with more accurate ones like “This is normal for this age, he isn’t trying to test me.” or “My toddler is going through an aggressive stage right now but it doesn’t mean he is a bully” Or “I can handle this, we will get through it”. Instead of “This is too much, I can’t take this anymore”. Watch what you think about your kid’s behavior, it will effect yours!
We need to stop praising children for acting like adults and embrace the need for kids to be egocentric and think of themselves. When we ask kids to use their words we need to understand that children often don’t understand their feelings and while using your words is a wonderful goal, it takes years to develop that kind of insight and maturity. Can you imagine your three year old coming up to you and saying “Mom, Dad, I’m tired and I’m feeling anxious about the arrival of my new sibling”. Wouldn’t that be wild? For children, behavior is communication: biting, whining, hitting, spitting, pinching and screaming are a toddler’s way of saying I’m frustrated, upset, bored, hurt, tired and so on.
So what is normal? Twelve-month-old babies can be very clingy. Toddlers bite and pinch and I wish I had a quarter for every parent that asks me why his or her two or three year old still wakes up several times through the night. Many children aren’t toilet trained until four. Four year olds tell tall tales and take things that don’t belong to them while perhaps calling you a “butt head”. School aged children can be cruel to others and exclude friends one day only to be best buddies the next. They are still trying to work out the complexities of relationships and resolving conflict. Many pre-teens experience anxiety and have difficulty getting to sleep at night, and so on. These are all very common issues that I hear about on a regular basis.
In our parenting courses light bulbs go on for parents when they share their stories in small groups with other parents who have kids the same age. They are often telling slightly different versions of a similar behavior in their children. Parents start to realize that they aren’t the only ones and that their kids are on track. Nobody said it would be a cakewalk but actually now that I think about it, nobody said anything to prepare me. Maybe there is wisdom to that!
I spend a lot of time reassuring parents that their children are on track. In my early years as an educator I used to feel pressured to come up with answers to help parents deal with “that pesky behavior”. I used to be intimidated when a parent would yell out, “I don’t care if it is normal, what do I do with it”? Now, seasoned through the years, I can say with confidence that how we think about our children will effect our behavior significantly and that is the behavior we can work on – our own.