For some reason, itâ€™s become acceptable to publicly insult our kids, especially in the name of â€śhumor.â€ť Read through a lot of parenting blogs and somewhere in there is the article where the parent decides to call their kid an a**hole, a little sh*t, or some other variant. I see the shares these posts get and the comments flooding in about how they too have a kid thatâ€™s an a**hole, and that kid is often a toddler. Based on these articles, you'd think we were being overrun by little toddler a**holes, wreaking havoc on all our lives just for fun.
Hereâ€™s the thing though: Your kidâ€™s not the a**hole, you are.
Your kid isnâ€™t intentionally trying to make your day hell. Your toddler isnâ€™t trying to hurt you or make you shut them away when they need help. Your child is suffering as much, if not more, than you. But you? Youâ€™re not thinking about them, you are so stuck in your own head and your own emotions that you canâ€™t see the child who needs help. Who needs you. You see an a**hole. So you spend a day fighting your child and then take to the Internet to share loud and wide what an a**hole you gave birth to. Even if only for a day, you have disowned any responsibility for your childâ€™s behaviour and put it all on their tiny, overwhelmed shoulders. That kinda makes you the a**hole.
The thing is, I do empathize with the plight of dealing with a child who is not having, shall we say, a good day themselves. When you combine full-on fury with an underdeveloped brain, it can cause anyone to want to start with a bottle of wine and go from there. As Yale professor Paul Bloom wrote, â€śFamilies survive the Terrible Tows because toddlers arenâ€™t strong enough to kill with their hands and arenâ€™t capable of using lethal weapons. A 2-year-old with the physical capacities of an adult would be terrifying.â€ť So I get how hard it can be -- physically and emotionally. And no, I donâ€™t think youâ€™re a bad parent or that you donâ€™t love your child.
I think itâ€™s really a reflection of the greater problem of how we view children in our society. We expect children to behave like adults and are angry when they fail to live up to this impossible standard because they arenâ€™t adults. (Of course once they are old enough we treat them as infants, incapable of walking down the street alone, but thatâ€™s a topic for another day.) When I read of parents calling their kids a**holes for behaving as children -- because yes, as hard as it is, your child will have hard days and tantrums -- it is clear that our parenting expectations are so warped that the only way parents have to look at toddler-like behaviour is to think of their child as an asshole. And then share it with the world.
When you call your kid an asshole in a public forum (with your name and everything), you are doing three things:
- Making it clear that you have expectations of their behaviour that is unrealistic, especially without proper guidance from you, and then shaming them for it;
- Responding to your child in a way that doesnâ€™t foster the type of growth or behaviour you seem to be expecting; and
- Supporting other parents in doing the same thing instead of helping them see how to help their child grow and learn.
Letâ€™s start with the issue of expectations. Your young child is in the midst of learning to regulate emotions, control behaviour, and learn what is socially acceptable. Your child also has a prefrontal cortex that is only starting to develop (compared to yours which is fully developed, giving you a rather large edge in the â€śhow to behaveâ€ť department, though you donâ€™t seem to be taking advantage of that edge). Your child hasnâ€™t mastered emotion regulation and will be triggered by things that may seem trivial to you, but are overwhelming to them, especially if they are already in a highly emotional state. In short, the deck is stacked against them being able to calm down on their own once worked up, understand their behaviour or its effects on you, or respond to your demands (yes, demands) of sleep or quiet with anything other than more panic and screaming. Calling them an a**hole -- even just in the online sphere where you think it wonâ€™t reach them -- is a means of shaming them (and is memorialized online for years to come if they ever try to google themselves or you), and if you are calling them that in public, youâ€™re likely thinking it as you interact with them. This means your reaction to their behaviour isnâ€™t what it should be either.
This brings us to point two: How you respond to your child. Itâ€™s easy to get angry at the child that is acting out. Very easy. This post isnâ€™t to tell you that you need to be a beacon of Zenness as you deal with a child that has lost it entirely. There may be a few people who can do that, but as I know Iâ€™m not one of them personally, I canâ€™t realistically expect others to be too, but that doesnâ€™t leave calling your kid an a**hole the only alternative. You may first feel like youâ€™re going mad. You may want to storm from the house and threaten never to return. You may want to cry or start drinking at 11am. All are completely valid feelings. Acting on them is not. If youâ€™re letting your childâ€™s feelings of being overwhelmed overwhelm you, you will end up in a situation in which no good will come.
So take a moment. Lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to calm down. Take your deep breaths, scream into a pillow, whatever you need to do to get to the stage where you can remind yourself of something that is essential: Your child isnâ€™t trying to give you a hard time, your child is having a hard time. And your child needs you to be there. What your child needs specifically will vary, but at the very least, they need you to remain calm, or as calm as possible, because if you donâ€™t, youâ€™re the one adding the fuel to the fire. Your child will react to your stress and the situation becomes worse. It may be that you need to tell them youâ€™re there and wait for them to calm down and come to you. They may need a time-in right away where you cuddle and just hold them until they are feeling better (note: if theyâ€™re flailing and hitting you and holding them tight isnâ€™t possible or doesnâ€™t work, give them the time first, letting them know youâ€™re there when theyâ€™re ready).
Once they are calm again itâ€™s our job as parents to talk to them about what happened, offer alternatives that are more appropriate for future meltdowns, and help them see ways to stop these behaviours before they start. In short, you donâ€™t need to endorse the behaviour or expect it to continue forever more, just understand it and work to help them help themselves.
What your child doesnâ€™t need is for you to think of him as an a**hole for not being able to keep it together all the time. Heck, if that were the rule then I believe all our kids could rightfully be calling us a**holes most days, but I donâ€™t see many parents writing pieces about how much of an a**hole they were that day. No, we are generous to ourselves and understand how stress can overwhelm us, giving ourselves a pass when we fail to live up to the high expectations of perfection.
Whatâ€™s perhaps most disturbing in a large-picture sense is that when you share this view of your child as an a**hole out in a public sphere, you support other parents in maintaining their own unrealistic expectations and inappropriate responses. As I said at the start, I get why you want to write something after a day that has been horrible, but thereâ€™s so much more that could be written. You could write a piece from the perspective of your child and how hard his day was. You could write a piece about what you learned from the experience. Or if you just need to vent, you can actually vent about your day without calling your kid an a**hole. People will understand how hard it is to deal with those days and the sympathy will come pouring in even if you donâ€™t throw your kid under the bus for being a kid. A neurologically immature kid at that.
Next time you think about writing something that tells the world what a sh**ty kid youâ€™ve raised, perhaps you should think twice: Either youâ€™re admitting youâ€™re a pretty sh**ty parent yourself to have raised such an a**hole, or youâ€™re just being the a**hole youâ€™re accusing your kid of being.
Do you agree that a**hole kid behavior is generally the parent's fault?
Image via Mindaugas Danys/Flickr