Most of us appreciate that most toddlers are messy eaters. We don’t look at a toddler with yogurt in their hair and worry that they will become a 12-year old with yogurt in their hair. We know and expect that toddlers will be messy until they have the small motor skills to manage spoons, right? Meanwhile we help them clean themselves up, we teach them to clean themselves up, we give them opportunities to practice, and we keep a ready supply of bibs because we accept the reality of messy toddlers.
Now imagine if we did that for other challenging stages — for sassy 9-year olds and weepy 12-year olds and sullen 15-year olds.
This is why I eye books, courses and experts that promise to cure common problem behaviors of childhood with some distrust. We’re not supposed to cure them, for goodness sake, we’re supposed to support children through the developmental tasks that inspire the challenges. The common problems have a purpose. Toddlers tantrum because they are little. They are struggling with language and independence and overwhelm and the limits of their abilities. They are frustrated a lot! And sometimes they are so frustrated that they fall down and holler about it. Instead of seeing the tantrums as a problem, we’d be better served to see them as a sign of where they are developmentally and start thinking about ways to help them grow through it.
That’s not to say we should just suffer through the tantrum years without dealing with it because our job as parents is to deal with it. Like the messy toddler, the tantruming toddler needs our help. But just like we wouldn’t punish a messy toddler, we don’t need to punish a tantruming toddler. And just like we wouldn’t leave a toddler to sit in their own puddles of yogurt until they figure it out, we also shouldn’t just leave a tantruming toddler alone to figure it out.
It’s tricky — we need to have this balance of expecting children to be difficult while also expecting them — and encouraging them — to improve. We need to accept that they are developing beings with emphasis on developing. We tend to have unrealistic ideas about what kids are capable of doing. We often expect too much or too little because we don’t know any better. We think middle schoolers should be responsible but actually middle schoolers are learning to be responsible, which is a whole different thing. We expect 9-year olds to keep their rooms clean without basing that on any realistic understanding of 9-year olds.
At the center of the You Are Not Your Mother membership is a parenting course that addresses just these issues and tells you what to do about them. Wait, that’s not right. Actually the course teaches you to figure out what to do about them. It helps you know exactly what to expect for your unique child at each stage and in every circumstance. It gives you a problem-solving model that always works (if you work it). The course itself is self-study but I’m just a private message or group post away to hep you figure it out. Plus each month we’ll have zoom sessions where we’ll work the model as a group and I’ll be available to answer any questions.
I’m pretty excited about that.
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