Littles and Bigs / Part 1
Boo! It is getting close to Halloween. Fall leaves, harvest moon, cooler weather, pumpkins to jack-o-lanterns, apples and caramel and cinnamon spice smells, costumes readied. Halloween is not relegated to race, religion, gender, demographic, age. It is quite a generous custom. Kids of all ages visit homes after sunset on October 31st. Someone opens the door and gives a treat so they won’t be tricked. Trick or Treaters indulge in a candy marathon, hype up on sweets, and eventually fall into bed with remnants of makeup and hair color ending up on the pillow. If Halloween falls on a weekday, they experience their first hangover at school the next day from all the sugar and shenanigans the night before. Amnesty is declared for one day for all little monsters. Scary ghosts and goblins, witches, hero figures from every genre appear on streets and festivals in perfect harmony. It is a perfect time to experience being scared in a perfectly safe way. As an adult, can you remember your Halloweens? Your choice of costumes? The freedom to be out at night roaming the streets among family, neighbors, and strangers? Acting and acting out, having fun, and eating all that candy before bedtime? Many people continue to make Halloween memories into adulthood because of how much fun they had as kids.
This is a good time to use Halloween “amnesty” to get perspective on children’s behavior. Little children are little monsters (and not the Lady Gaga variety for the purposes of this blog). Let us celebrate that there is a day in the year when they can be their greedy, self-absorbed, hedonistic, pleasure seeking selves. And give the adults a glorious day off from balancing the monster of “behavior management” and guiding our precious li’l monsters to evolve as socially, well-adjusted individuals who care enough about others to treat them as they want to be treated.
Here’s the scoop. During the past several decades, a booming multi-billion dollar industry has grown involving medical, social, emotional, and physical facets built solely on the myth that the Baby Boomers, the Gen X-ers, and now the Millennial adults need it to navigate the guidance we must give to our children. How did this happen? It was not true for parents raising children in the post war 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s. There was one book, first published in 1945 and authored by Benjamin Spock, M.D. that was the industry. Originally called The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, it has enjoyed longevity and revisions and is still available as Baby and Child Care by the same Dr. Benjamin Spock. In today’s world, “common sense” has given way to the apparent need for hundreds of experts to tell us what to do. The point is, common sense was the only industry in town for the generation of adults raising the Baby Boomers. If any of that generation serve as counsel to any of you today, they will look at you askance if you ask them what child rearing philosophy they followed. Most likely, they will say “I never gave it much thought.” Common sense guided them in raising their children to be “fair and decent” human beings. There was no angst, guilt, and worry over their kids being a pain in the ass and they certainly did not enable bad behavior or make it theirs to solve. There was consequence meted out that upset the children enough to fix their own problem. As hard as it is for adults to believe today, adults were the center and focus of the American household during the 50’s and 60’s, not the children. Children’s lives were not interesting enough to be the focus. Yes, the Bigs loved their Littles. Yet, the requirement did not exist that it was more important for kids to like you. It seems to me that the “child and family methodology” industry of today has reversed that flow. It’s a different KoolAid today and it is being gulped by the bucketful.
Simple observation of Littles interacting with Bigs suggests that children are much more adept about the mastery of “tricks” to get their own way rather than the “treats” gained through surrendering to the mastery of adults that raise children with love and not with that most fickle of things, popularity.
So, indulge me to suggest a basic foundational principle for raising kids. Say what you will, but it does take a village. Whether you lay claim to your own children or you play a part in the life of any children, it is a societal responsibility and of the highest honor to participate in the process.
Children simply are not born as well behaved humans. They are tiny, adorable creatures whose compass is set to get their needs met immediately by any willing adult until they can fend for themselves. Their communication is not words at first. It is gurgles, coos, crying, flailing, and carrying on. If, as adults, the rush to gratify every need extends past the time when it is developmentally impossible to “spoil” the baby, then their internal compass veers from true north. That is where the term “terrible twos” comes from. Once the baby becomes a tyke with mobile and verbal controls at their disposal (around 2 yrs of age give or take 6 months), then any delay in getting or doing what they want is met with a tantrum. And from my perspective, this is the tipping point. Tantrums suck when you are on the receiving end. When an adult will do anything to stop the tantrum, including giving in to demand and enabling the behavior, the struggle has become real. Worse, the score is Littles 1/ Bigs 0. Now the problem belongs to the adult, not the child. The tantrum becomes the solution for the child. When an adult realizes a tantrum is totally annoying yet, normal, and allows it to run its course without giving in to the demand, then the score is Littles 0 / Bigs 1. That is when a toddler begins to understand that tantrums are not the solution. Adults, in these moments, must shrug and accept that any kid is not going to “like” you when you do not jump through a hoop of their design. Please let it roll off your back and allow the problem to remain as one the child must solve. And they will. Kids are naturally creative and great problem solvers. If we just let them. Your effort will be rewarded, Bigs. Accept all the admiring looks and profound gratefulness from your peers when you are at the grocery or restaurant or an event with children in tow. It is clear that the adult with those children is clearly the Alpha with all the common sense in the world.
When the age of two passes and the compass is never set properly, the little monster can become a Big Monster as an adult. Woe is us. An extreme example is posturing upon America’s presidential candidate stage; his ego and popularity fueled by tantrums and enabled by a frenzied base of support that loves his tricks.
I say little monsters are appropriate one day of the year and one day only. Happy Halloween!
Lets’s face it…It is harvest season and, together, we are the village raising our children. Let us reap a fabulous crop.