I admit, I am routinely criticized for not ruling my children with more of an iron fist. I don’t even know what an iron fist is, but it sounds mean and hard and cold. I will Google it. Regardless of what it means, I am always surprised at how hard we are on kids. I am equally as surprised at how quick we are to call kids “controlling” or “manipulative” or to claim they are doing something “for attention,” simply because they are not doing what we want when we want them to. I am not talking about naughty behavior either, I am talking about meeting milestones.
I recently came across a mother’s desperate plea regarding her daughter’s reluctance to use the potty. After trying every extrinsically motivating trick in the book, she was beside herself because nothing was working. Most of the advice was aggressive and did not take into consideration the fact that the discussion was about a small human. It was as though this woman could not get her doll app to function properly. Here’s what I think: just because parents decide they are done with diapers doesn’t mean their child is ready for the potty. More importantly, it doesn’t make the child a difficult, manipulative, controlling potential sociopath if they don’t immediately and eagerly drop trou for two M&Ms, so why the panic?
My son is simply not in a rush to grow up, so he took a long time to potty train. We always presented the potty option, but never pushed the issue. We tried little awards, but who was I kidding? I was the one being manipulative, not him. One day he just copped a squat, thought it was cool and that was that. It just so happened that he was ready about 6 months after I was, but I was on to him by then. I knew he would come around peacefully and independently on his terms. It never occurred to me he was being controlling. (And even if he was- if you can’t control your own pee and poop, what can you control in this world? )
I have a similar issue when people will say a child is “doing something for attention.” Maybe. Probably. I do things for attention, too. I can also verbalize when I need a hug or a little TLC. A child cannot, so they act out. The reality of having kiddos is that they need attention and A LOT of it. After 52 years of parenting, my parents are STILL navigating the needs and emotions of their 5 children, 12 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren, so don’t plan on things letting up any time soon. If you don’t give attention naturally, they will devise a plan to get it from you. That is not deviousness or manipulation, it is just their way of getting a need fulfilled. Kids also go through little spurts of neediness and independence, so just be supportive of both phases because they are both essential for development. I know my son can get his own clothes on, but some days he just wants me to help him. Probably to have some extra one on one time together. We talk, we play, we put on our socks. It’s all good. Is that manipulative or is that wisdom? See, adults do things like that all the time: I CAN make dinner tonight, but I don’t WANT to, so I am getting takeout. I CAN go get my own drink from the fridge, but I don’t FEEL like getting up, so I ask my husband to grab me one. You see, “I can, but I ain’t gonna” sounds so fresh coming from a child, but it is something adults say or think everyday.
As a high school teacher, I am reminded how quickly my little sidekicks will grow into adults applying to college, so I am more than willing to just give them time to be kids, give them all the attention they need and give them a chance to reach milestones when they are ready. No rush.