For parents, children are their pride and joy – they’re creative, passionate, curious, hilarious and adventurous. However, let’s not forget that these cuties can also be relentless, unreasonable and fearless, which can often be mistaken for intentional behaviour such as greed, selfishness and rudeness. But are children really out to make our lives difficult?
Children that challenge us the most are the ones that need our love and support the most.
The most popular misconception I hear is that children are challenging on purpose, but my experience has led me to believe that these misconceptions begin the moment we take a child’s behaviour personally. Loud, bubbly behaviour is always a result of an underlying need; understanding this can help parents create a calmer, happier parenting experience.
Remembering that our little ones do not have the skills yet to express their needs in a way we can easily understand, let’s debunk some common myths around toddler and early childhood behaviour.
Myth: Children are total drama queens
During workshops, I love to get attendees to share their most outrageous toddler tantrum stories. Needless to say, I’m never disappointed! Do any of these sound familiar?
- My son threw a tantrum because I looked at him.
- My toddler had a tantrum because I wouldn’t let him sit in the oven while dinner was cooking! (And my favourite…)
- My daughter lost the plot because the family cat wouldn’t unlock the door and let her inside.
Toddlers are an absolute handful, but they’re actually behaving the only way possible!
As adults, we take advantage of a fully developed cortex – the area in our brain that allows us to dodge the car that’s run a red light or change our shirt after we’ve spilled hot coffee on it. The cortex is where we solve problems and think things through.
Your toddler, however, does not have a fully functioning prefrontal cortex. Their ability to reason and find solutions is virtually non-existent. This is where that saying, “Your child isn’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time” comes in. Little ones aren’t acting out to give us a headache. For them, they’re genuinely experiencing the end of the world when the cat won’t open the door!
Myth: Children are so selfish
Well, this one is kind of true, but not for the reason we might expect. Selfishness is a choice, whereas your toddler’s behaviour is not a choice. Young children are still in the early egocentric stages of development.
When your little one is all “Me! Me! Me!” and “Mine! Mine! Mine!” this is due to their natural brain work. You see, children are unable to experience another person’s point of view during the first few years of development. This is why saying, “You make Mummy/Daddy sad when you do that” means absolutely nothing to your toddler! (Sorry parents!) Little brains are simply not able to absorb the full meaning behind that because all they experience is their own perspective.
Myth: Children can be so rude
Like the previous examples, this debunking also takes place in the brain. Brains naturally crave empowerment and independent thought. When children feel irrelevant, disconnected or powerless, you will see an influx of expressive behaviour.
Remembering that young children do not have the life skills to say, “I need your help. I feel like I don’t matter to you.” What we usually get is a slap in the face, a scream or a runaway! Their bodies (and voice) are the only thing they have complete control over. They learn this quickly and use their actions as their early cries for support.
“Am I heard?” – “Am I seen?” – “Am I important?”
These questions are expressed through their behaviour and if we are unable to see beyond the ‘challenges’ we can often misinterpret their intentions. “He’s so ungrateful! Can’t he see all that I do for him?”
The answer, in short, is, “No, he can’t and that’s okay.”
What myth have you adopted around your toddler’s behaviour?
When we are in the habit of taking our youngster’s behaviour personally, we are taking a risk. One risk is we end up blaming a child for their behaviour and inevitably labelling them based on the challenges we experience, such as “He’s lazy.” or “She’s naughty.”
These labels can often place a wedge in the relationship and interrupt our ability to support them. It’s impossible to “be there” for someone when we’re too busy blaming them for their mistakes.
The second risk is we blame ourselves. “Am I a bad parent?” or “Why is my sister’s child better behaved then mine? What am I doing wrong?” Self-shame can also place an unconscious barrier between our child and ourselves during challenging behaviour.
The fact of the matter is, it hurts when kids abuse, ignore or refuse to listen to us. Of course it does, we’re human! However, it’s our responsibility as parents to see past our own emotional reaction in the moment.
Parenting doesn’t get easier over time, you just get better at it!
By replacing these myths with truths, we are immediately empowered. Remaining calm when we feel like our head may explode actually becomes possible. Supporting youngsters through a tantrum no longer feels overwhelming. Empathizing with a defiant child becomes manageable. Family life simply becomes more enjoyable.
Stephanie Wicker is an educator and founder of Simply Kids in Sydney, with over fifteen years of experience working across various facets of early childhood behaviour. She provides resources and evidence-based programs to empower parents to guide their children through life’s challenges calmly and mindfully.