Trying times at the Buried household.
Even since the kid turned three, he’s been, to borrow a word usually reserved for younger ages, terrible. Mom and Buried is concerned that we’re doing something – or not doing something – to encourage – or not discourage – this behavior. I’m more apt to dismiss his latest paranormal activities as part and parcel with his development. Most kids are devil-spawn at this age.
So she frets and I rationalize:
“He’s a toddler!”
“He’s three years old!”
“It’s a phase!”
While I concede I’m not the perfect Dad (there’s only one perfect dad: Coach Taylor from “Friday Night Lights”) and that there are probably things we could be doing to curb his behavior, I think I’m right. He is a toddler. He is only three. It probably is a phase.
But what if it’s not?
Toddlers go through a lot of phases and Detective Munch is no exception.
Over the past month alone, we’ve experienced the “no is my favorite word” stage (actually still going on); the “not speaking, only pointing” stage; the “constant whining, constant screaming” phase (also ongoing); the “acting like a dog” phase; the “everything I do makes Mommy and Daddy need another trip to the liquor store” phase (perpetual and infinite); etc.
As a parent, you learn to weather these storms, knowing they’ll give way to something new soon. Probably something worse, i.e., right now my son has stopped pretending to be a dog and started to really like tractors. (NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
The kid is exploring how to act, how we’ll react, what he can get away with, what he can’t get away with, what makes us snap, and so on. The exploration never really ends – when he’s a teenager, the list above will be replaced by things like his goth phase; his dubstep phase; his “change my hair color every week” phase; his “Brony” phase; etc. – but right now, despite how young and unformed he is, it can feel foolish to dismiss what could be an emerging personality as a mere quirk of childhood. Especially when it sometimes seems like he’s emerging into a raging asshole.
As your kid gets older, and more aware of what he’s doing, it gets harder to let bad behavior slide. Eventually you come to two conclusions: either he’s a bad seed or you’re doing something wrong.
But when? When do we stop excusing bad behavior as a phase and start laying some blame? Not just on the kid, but on ourselves?
I know some parents who keep using excuses until their kid is into their teens and beyond, and while they may have once had a chance to prevent their children from becoming terrible people, that ship has sailed for Kris and Bruce Jenner. The key is figuring it out early and responding appropriately. Without overreacting. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to figure it out. It’s not easy to tell which behavior is Hanson, a passing fad, and which behavior is the Beatles, here for the long haul.
Like everything else in parenting, it’s a delicate balancing act. You don’t want to lean too hard on discipline when your kid acts up at three, because he probably doesn’t know what he’s doing and you’re letting him get the best of you with behavior that likely won’t linger past Christmas. (Besides, if you can’t keep yourself from flying off the handle at three, you’re in for a long twenty years.)
But you also can’t be the parent who lets everything slide and calls everything a phase and waits for it to pass, because then there’s no foundation for discipline at all and you end up with a spoiled, uncontrollable douchebag of a kid who’s never been reined in.
It’s about moderation: pick your battles. And modulation: not every offense requires the same approach. I think. Probably? I don’t really know. But I do know, no matter what else you decide, every moment of discipline needs to be counteracted with two displays of affection. Because while they need to know there are limits to how they can behave and what they can get away with, they also need to know there are no limits to your love and forgiveness. Especially when they’re three. Or five. Or fifteen.
Unless he keeps wanting to get on tractors. I will DISOWN him.