Obviously I mean other people’s kids, not your kids. Of course.
Actually, I mean ALL kids. Mine and yours. There are varying degrees of savagery, but in reality, they are often selfish little primates on power trips. Grandparents will disagree with me but that’s because they’ve forgotten how awful we were when we were two going on eighteen.
The terrible twos are not some hyperbolic name for a period of sleepless nights or having twins. It’s because around the age of two, most angelic babies (fist bump if you had one of those) morph into rabid-unhinged-toddlers. Essentially, they become self-aware enough to figure out that they really want stuff that a normal parent shouldn’t give them. Like power tools and wine. Or perhaps that was just mine. Thus begins a repetitive pattern of ear-splitting tantrums for the bare minimum of a year. I used to refer to my daughter as three-nager as the terrible 2s were still going strong well into her 3’s. Also the 4’s etc.
Still not convinced? Take a moment to reflect on how your child eats, uses the bathroom and shares his toys.
And if you still can’t admit that your child is a little feral, at least occasionally, then I’m not sure we can be friends.
(FYI despite the remainder of the article, please be assured that I love my children unconditionally and they have many delightful moments and lovely qualities)
Suggesting your child is a little animal is not judgement, it’s a fact
And it’s actually a great equalizer for parenting. We are ALL parenting little neandertals in some shape or form.
Since the savagery is part of their nature and its instinctive i.e. not our fault.
Kids are natural narcissists and have innate needs and uncontrollable urges to acquire and protect resources.
Consequently, it’s totally okay to admit that ‘My kid is a wild animal’. Society will however appreciate it if we accompany this observation with ‘But. We. Are. Working. On. It.’
Sir Ken Robinson, a respected educator, calls this anti-savagery training. I may have paraphrased. He actually termed it Compassion, Composure and Community. Our kids need to learn empathy for others and an understanding of their own emotions to be productive members of society.
Teaching kids to count is great, but teaching them what counts is best
It’s not ‘just a phase’
One of the mistakes to make is to assume it’s just a phase. They will grow out of it.
I know repeating ‘it’s just a phase’ is how some of us sleep at night, but hear me out before you get annoyed with my presumption. The only reason it IS a phase is because you invariablydo something about it, i.e., set some boundaries, teach them how to calm down, work on their patience.
If you did nothing, well then, that savagery will just continue. A three-year-old hitting you is annoying, but a 12-year-old hitting you is parental abuse. The more negative behaviour you can address when they are little, the smaller the long-term consequences.
Teach the children, so that it will not be necessary to teach the adults
But how? Admittedly most parents are functioning on too little sleep. So rather than pouring your energy into ALL the socially unacceptable things like: wiping their boogers on the wall or biting on their toenails. Save your energy and bring out the big guns for the stuff with that’s actually a BIG deal. Such as violent behaviour: like punching their sibling or pulling out chunks of hair from a friend or kicking you in the nuts (Mr C’s edit).
And of course, some kids take a lot more work and longer to learn, but part of being a parent is to help our kids to become an asset to societynot a plague on it.
I am not advocating for full domestication or turning them into clones. Encourage your kid to be as weird as they want. We are just working towards better self-awareness / control regarding whether headbutting another 4-year-old is an appropriate response when they look at your Lego.
Anyway, what got me thinking about kids being animals was some recent playground (‘recess’ for Americans) drama because that is proper ‘Lord of the flies’ stuff. You know the sort; being pushed, doused in sand, smacked on the head with a saucepan. Gang warfare for 3 to 5-year-olds.
They seem to prowl in packs and when one gang falls out with another, then all hell breaks loose. I get a daily commentary from the twins and am able to piece together the various rivalries. The school tries to stay on top of things and is committed to making sure aggressive behaviour isn’t normalised, but they have their work cut out for them.
There are often two sides to every story. But occasionally some kids are just plain bored or on power trips.
How to train your troll
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to train some of the savagery out of our children. And by savagery, I mean their basic selfish instinct.
Some kids are harder work than others. I know because we have a large sample size from our own genes. To be more specific, I think the savagery comes from Mr C’s genes. And just to complicate it, there different types of savagery to address: subtle, sneaky, brazen, and, psychotic.
Most training is just repetition on a ‘socialization’ theme: teaching your kid to share, ask for things, not to respond physically, and not to snatch.
But the hardest one is fostering social-empathy.
I don’t know if this is actually a term but I want to differentiate from ‘empathy’. Because if some of you are thinking, ‘but my kid is so sweet and loving’, I give you exhibit A: Leia.
Leia sobbed in the supermarket because the music was too sad. Couldn’t watch a Disney movie because Every. Single. One. Is about orphans. And cried every time one of her siblings bled. A true empath you might say. Apparently not when I caught her strangling disciplining Yoda for some property infringement… We realised that her ‘empathy’ was largely narcissistic. Specifically, she would run away to cry when one of her siblings got hurt because she could imagine ‘her own pain’ in a similar situation. Part of our training process has been to ‘teach’ her that the most loving thing to do is to take care of the injured person. Instead of instinctively legging it somewhere else.
I have since discovered that empathy or ‘caring for others’ can fortunately be cultivated. So you don’t have to worry that you have a permanent psychopath on your hands. Here are some tips such as modelling empathy and role playing, talking about others’ feelings, helping your kids to develop self-control and setting expectations.
Kids learn more from example than from anything you say
I am not saying the training process is not arduous. On the upside I am increasingly convinced you can teach a kid how to do just about anything. It is just a question of patience and perseverance. And your pain threshold.
What to do when your child has been a rabid animal?
I was once called into nursery to discuss the twins both being violent when they were 3. However, I was ‘relieved’ to find it was just each other they were hitting and biting. No need to have an awkward conversation with another parent, always a win.
But recently we were on the receiving end of some playground savagery and its whole new kind of ‘messy’ parenting. Not least because you feel your ownprimal-protective instinct surging.
But if you find out your kid has hurt another kid, here are my suggestions for talking to the other parent (which you should do if you want to maintain a friendship):
Find out whether their kid is okay
Say you are sorry that your kid hurt their kid (this is a legitimate thing for you to feel sorry about, you are not apologising on behalf of your kid)
Acknowledge that it is not okay and you are dealing with it
It was really helpful for me to hear this from a friend when their kid bit Chewy two days in a row. So much irony in that sentence.
Anyway, this opened up some good dialogue between us and I felt like I was able to offer an olive branch and suggest that perhaps Chewy had been antagonising her offspring. Note: She did not make that suggestion first.
Which leads me on to how not to deal with it.
My kid didn’t mean to hurt your kid…
Don’t make excuses. The only way you can ascribe intent is if you actually witnessed the event and are certain that it was an accident.
But the only way that excuse hold up for a bite is if your kids runs around with their mouth open and their eyes closed.
Other versions of this excuse include: My kid told me that Chewy took her spade. Maybe it was a friendly kiss that got carried away. Or my kid often bites me. Nope. Don’t make excuses and don’t blame the victim. This really grates if your offspring has been on the receiving end.
I am well aware that aggression can often be incited in some way. But as soon as your kid is violent towards another kid, they crossed a line.
‘He called me names’ is never standing up in court as an excuse to get punched.
Obviously if they are both trading blows then you need to employ a referee.
I also find this response frustrating: ‘My kid genuinely means well, they wouldn’t maliciously hurt anyone.’
This is highly unlikely to be true. I am being generous here with the use of the word ‘highly’. Because I can only assume they don’t have siblings, otherwise this would have been observed at close quarters. My offspring definitely mean to cause harm to their own flesh and blood, albeit occasionally.
Because they are angry and are lashing out.
The feeling might be fleeting and they might later regret it, but gut instinct ‘in the moment’ is to cause some hurt. Chewy recently pushed Solo off a chair because he was annoyed. And he was very sorry (following a parental interrogation) that Solo inadvertently ended up with a bleeding head wound. But his initial action was totally intentional.
Teach your kid not to be a victim
If you discover your kid is becoming a regular target of playground animals well then…obviously you should try and talk to the school and/or to the parents of the other trolls.
But I also feel that you have to give your kid the tools to stand up for themselves, so they aren’t always relying on grown-ups to intervene.
And by standing up for themselves, I don’t mean responding by punching other kids. Cue my own dad’s suggested response to any playground shenanigans ‘Do you want a knuckle sandwich?’
Teach your kid to yell ‘NO’ loudly when another reprobate crosses a line, use roleplay. Potentially with a growl because that is likely to scare the average kid, but also because it attracts an adult’s attention. But mostly because we are teaching our kids not to be easy prey. We want to make other little monsters think twice before picking on our little monsters.
This can be expanded to ‘I don’t like that!’ or ‘Stop that!’.
And sometimes you need to teach more passive kids to defend their personal space.
For example, I caught Yoda on a few occasions either being sat on by his baby brothers or getting whacked in the face with a piece of Duplo, even though he was a foot taller than them. We had to explain to him that if he anticipates that a 2-year-old is about wallop him, he can reach out and restrain their hand before they make contact. He needed to understand that he didn’t just have to accept bad behaviour from smaller kids. We had to role play it several times but he got the idea.
The same concept applies as they get older, if they feel that a kid is encroaching with savage intent, they can reach out with one or both hands and protect ‘their space’. Literally keep them at arm’s length. Don’t let them get close enough to be bitten. We are still working on that one.
But we also repeatedly encourage ours to look out for playground savagery and stick up for each other and other victims to create an atmosphere where violent behaviour is just not okay. And hopefully encouraging the development of communal empathy in the process.
Anyway these are just my thoughts on a particular challenging period of ‘community-child-rearing’ that we are navigating. After all, it takes a village… All parenting is a process and some days you have wins and some days you should just stay in bed. Each age brings different challenges but hopefully some of the foundations we lay when they are younger will help as they get older.