Sometimes I feel bad for my six-year-old.
Not when he’s throwing a fit or refusing to eat dinner or talking back or throwing a fit or refusing to go to bed or being disrespectful or throwing a fit, but sometimes.
Dude’s had a bit of a rough run lately, what with the arrival of a little brother to not only steal some cuteness thunder but also to wreak havoc on the household without receiving so much as a cross word. Simply because he’s younger.
Toddlers get the benefit of the doubt for their behavior. Six-year-olds don’t.
Until you have teenagers. And first graders aren’t all that great either. I didn’t love the newborn stage, and while I had fun in my twenties, I’m not sure my parents enjoyed them. The point is, kids suck! But I digress.
Toddlers are terrible, but it’s not their fault. Until it is. (Wow, this is getting muddled.) The point is, there are a solid few years when your kid is so young and new and inexperienced, when his abilities outpace his awareness, that his mistakes can hardly be blamed on him. He’s a baby or a toddler or a preschooler. He doesn’t know any better and it’s unfair to expect him to. He gets the benefit of the doubt for a good long stretch of time.
Once he hits kindergarten, though, things start to tighten up, and by the time he’s in elementary school – like Detective Munch – a lot of the old excuses are gone. Yes, six-year-olds are still little kids who are exploring their boundaries, testing their parents, and figuring themselves – and the world – out, but some behavior is no longer acceptable. The behavioral expectations are different for toddlers and first-graders.
For example, Detective Munch has been speaking for the better part of five years now. There’s no reason for him to whine and scream when he can simply explain himself. His brother has to scream and grunt and cry to communicate (it’s delightful!); he has no other tools at his disposal. Detective Munch is more than five years older than The Hammer, and there are things he can do that his little brother can’t, things he should do that his little brother can’t. When he refuses to do them and gets scolded for it, that’s on him.
Then again, he is still only six. It’s not like we expect him to be emotionally mature. I sometimes expect too much from him, and forget that he’s still a little boy and will be one for another five years or so, give or take (it depends on how many GMOs he eats.)
He gets to watch us dote on his little brother who, quite frankly, is a maniac. The Hammer breaks things, spills things, and hits things with consistency, indifference, and full diplomatic immunity. When he puts a toothbrush in the toilet or throws a ball at the TV or pours a beer all over the rug or hits his brother in the face, the most he get is a frustrated shrug. It’s pointless to rebuke someone who barely comprehends what’s happening!
Detective Munch is old enough to understand that. He’s old enough for us to talk with him about it, and we do. We try to reassure him when he gets jealous of all the attention his brother gets. But he’s also young enough to occasionally be overwhelmed by what he surely sees as preferential treatment.
The age gap has been great for us in many respects, but for Detective Munch, who is firmly in the throes of “growing up,” with all the baggage and expectation that requires, seeing his much younger little brother do a lot of the same stuff he does and receive the benefit of the doubt every time?
That’s gotta be tough. But there is a flip-side.
Babies and toddlers have a reputation for cuteness, and they deserve it. They are cute AF (for a reason). But six-year-olds are cute too. And they’re smart and funny and entertaining and unpredictable and the big difference is that they are all of those things on purpose. Intentionally. The Hammer may get a free pass for being a pain in the ass, but he also doesn’t get credit for anything he does. With toddlers, both the good and the bad are almost entirely accidental.
Detective Munch can be a jerk on purpose, but he can be pretty amazing too. The Hammer is not even two; he’s going to continue to get the benefit of the doubt for a while. It comes with the age.
I’m not about to start blaming my 18-month-old for his bad behavior, but I should probably give my six-year-old more recognition when he’s good.