Take a minute and think about your child. Picture that excitement in their face right after they learn that their team won that first t-ball game. Can you see that surprised look on their face on Christmas morning when they get that much longed-for gift? Look at their face. Aren’t they the sweetest things ever? Their big round eyes, those long, beautiful eyelashes, that precious little nose, and those sweet lips that kiss your cheek every night before they fall fast asleep in their bed. Look at them. See how sweet they look while they’re fast asleep? And when they wake up so pleasant and well rested every morning and smile at you as they brush their teeth and get ready for school (without even having to be asked!), can you see them?
Okay, so maybe you were able to visualize just how sweet they look once they’re asleep… assuming that you’re one of the lucky ones who has a child who sleeps. And I bet you can see how precious their face looks when they’re happy and content. But did I lose you at the end? Yeah, that may have been a little fiction I stuck in there. At least for many of us parents, that last part – the waking up so pleasant and smiling as they go about their morning routine – is a pretty rare scene.
My own kid is not quite so pleasant to wake up. He moans and groans and asks me for the billionth time why he has to go to school. Then he rolls over, pretending like this hasn’t been the routine for years now. He mumbles and grunts to himself as he gets dressed and eats his breakfast. And as far as brushing his teeth… Some days that takes some real work. He’ll do it, but he decided a long time ago that he doesn’t have to be happy about it. As for after school, some days are less than fun for either of us. There’s homework to be done, practice to go to, and there are baths to take. Some days he does all of this willingly and with little complaint. Then there are the days where he’s grumpy for one reason or another, and that’s when the fun begins. He wants something or he wants to go somewhere, and well, the answer just can’t always be yes. And then…
But wait, weren’t they just babies yesterday? They were so sweet. Remember when they wanted to cuddle with you? Remember those little kisses on your cheek and how innocent they seemed. And then you think about this day that you’re having now. The one where your child asked you to buy them something beyond expensive or wanted to hang out with that kid from down the street that likes to swear at everyone and smokes cigarettes when he thinks no one is looking. And you say no. Then all of a sudden, they don’t seem so pleasant and sweet. They seem… almost like a monster. WHY?!!
Little Monster Psychology
In each developmental phase, kids wrestle with new skills and abilities, and these are some real struggles for them. Assuming the phase goes well, after a period of intense struggle and effort, finally a breakthrough occurs. A personal victory that changes everything. The child discards his old way of doing things and determines to keep moving forward.
Each time your child masters a new skill, be it learning how to use a spoon by himself or learning how to drive a car, he makes a leap in maturity. And he loves this feeling of mastery; it’s a rush of confidence in his own abilities. He is now stronger and more powerful. And we as parents are right there cheering them on, we’re so proud of them! This parental applause motivates them to keep striving for more mastery. To keep moving forward.
Here’s the thing though. That drive for independence, the one each and every child (and person, in general) holds within them… Well, it promotes conflict too. With mastery comes a yearning for more independence. In other words, kids will begin to reject their parent’s support. Imagine the baby who has just learned how to use the spoon by herself. Then you, the parent, try helping her use the spoon one day when you see that she could probably use a little assistance. The baby doesn’t want your help though and swats your hand away. And the more you try to help, the madder she gets.
To complicate all of this, inexperience and impulsivity play in to this drive for greater independence. Kids don’t know their limits. They don’t always know what’s good for them and what’s not. They aren’t sure when to stop and when to go. The thing they do know though is that they don’t want their parents hovering over them every step of the way. This means that eventually every parent has the unpopular job of going against their kid’s will.
Let me repeat that. EVERY PARENT has the unpopular job of going against their kid’s will, at least sometimes (and usually more often than that).
Here’s something else that’s pretty important. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to be a good parent without saying no from time to time.
So the battle of wills begins. You see, kids don’t really like hearing the word no. Do you? Kids are perplexed when they’re prevented from getting what they want. “What? Why are you doing this to me?! Can’t you see…?”
They don’t understand that we’re protecting them. To them, it feels like restraint, and they don’t like it. Not. One. Bit.
It’s actually human nature to rebel against restrictions, and no kid wants a parent standing between them and what they want. Yes, nature puts kids and their parents on a collision course. That’s why, eventually, all healthy kids must enter into battle with their parents. This fight is natural and necessary. It’s how kids can begin to define themselves as different from their parents.
That’s right. Kids have their own wants and needs, their own interests; if kids are too accommodating or compliant with their parents, they will grow to lack confidence and self-definition in life. In every developmental stage, kids instinctively battle against their parents’ restrictions. And as parents impose their will on their kids, sparks fly. These clashes are unavoidable and an IMPORTANT part of parenting.
Now we as parents enter into a crucial moment after we set a restriction for our child. The child will see how far he can push his parents and give him what he wants. It’s his will against theirs. It’s up to us, the parent, to decide what we’re going to do at this point: stay firm and refuse to give in to demands, or concede to the child’s demands. Sometimes the choice is an easy one, such as one where we are trying to protect them from a potentially dangerous situation. Sometimes the choice is more difficult to make. Should we give in? Should we negotiate? Not all choices are black and white, but it’s up to us as parents to do our best to help our children and protect them. It’s up to us to help our “little monsters.”