A two-year-old steals a toy from another kid. His mom, an average-sized thirty-one-year-old woman, moves in to take the toy from her child and return it to its rightful owner. A tug of war ensues. The toddler wins. Another two-year-old walks out of the house in the middle of lunch. Her mother says in the sweetest voice she can muster, “Could you please come back inside?” The two-year-old screams, “NO!” and slams the door. The mother’s response: “Well, I guess she just doesn’t feel like coming inside.” A third two-year-old takes a toy from my eleven-month-old and then kicks her. Her parents’ reaction? They apologize to me while my eleven-month-old cries in my arms and the two-year-old runs off with the toy.
I am frustrated. This was not the first time I had seen these kids and their respective parents do these things. I am not surprised that a kid that age would steal a toy or hit another kid. It does not make me think they are bad kids. They just need guidance from their parents. What frustrates me is that it seems I’m the only one who thinks so. What surprises me is the parents’ poor response the second time around. I am always left wondering if I am the only one who sees myself as my child’s first (and most important) teacher. In my admittedly short time as a mom, it has struck me that children are always learning. As a result, when we choose not to correct their behavior—they still learn a lesson. They learn to pull harder on the toy, scream louder, and kick with both feet.
It bugs me, too, that these parents’ refusal to teach their children correct behaviors also affects my kids. For example, my daughter and her friend were arguing vehemently over a toy while we were at the friend’s house. The mother of the other child decided that she would take away the toy and not allow either of them to play with it. This seemed fine to me so I told my daughter what was going to happen and when she indicated that she was going to protest, I said sternly, “It’s time to move on and find something else to play with.” Because she knows that I mean what I say, she did what I said and moved on. The other kid began screaming wildly for the next 5 minutes while my daughter watched quietly. His mother stared at him, tears welling up in her eyes. She then said in a sappy voice, “Do you really want this?” Of course, the child said, “Yes.” And you know what she did? She gave him the toy. I was furious. Here is my kid following the rules and not throwing a temper tantrum and she just watched a kid who did all the wrong things get rewarded. Come on!
In the age of helicopter parenting, it’s interesting to me how absent these parents are when their children misbehave. Don’t get me wrong. They are standing right there watching their child scream, kick, etc., but they do nothing. And as a result, the behavior repeats itself. What good is hovering if you aren’t going to notice what your kid is doing and help them to learn how to do better next time? We owe them that!
Look, I’m not going to tell you that my two-year-old doesn’t attempt to do all of the things I just mentioned above. I’m also not going to tell you that I always know exactly what to do when she chooses to act up. To be honest, I am sometimes shocked by the things she thinks to do that she should not. So it is possible that my kid might do something and I might not respond well, but, trust me, I know it. It won’t happen again. I go home and think about how I’ll react the next time because I know there will be a next time (especially if I was too flabbergasted to respond well). I also sit her down as soon as possible and talk to her about what she did and how the next time there will be consequences. She is two so I don’t engage in complex reasoning with her. I just say, “Hey, remember when you pushed that kid because you wanted that toy. Next time you push someone you will have time out. And, if you do it again, we’ll go home.” Then, I watch her so I can catch her doing it and I follow through on my plan. That’s my job. In instances like these, hovering is what we should be doing!
Being a mom isn’t just a sweet little gig. It’s my job. I don’t just have to feed, clothe, and shelter them. I have to try to turn them into productive members of society that people actually want to be around. It might hurt my kids’ feelings to be told “no.” But it will hurt a lot more if the world tells them “no” when they are adults because their behavior is so abhorrent. What I want to say to these people is this: Do your kids (and mine) a favor. Make rules. Tell your kids the rules. And then make them follow the rules. Everyone will be better for it in the end.