As a new parent, when my child misbehaved I used to think, “I must not be doing the right things or else she wouldn’t be acting like this.” The parenting books I read would describe certain methods to get your child to behave. I would do those things, and she would still be difficult. (I’ve mentioned my irritation with parenting books before!). My mind couldn’t help but sense that maybe I was not doing it “right.” There had to be some change I could make so her behavior would improve and parenting would be easier.
The hard truth is it’s part of children’s normal growth and development to misbehave, cry and act out. They are going to throw fits, hurt other children, refuse to go to bed, whine, and hit. Maybe everyone else gets that intuitively, but this was not something I knew or understood or could even begin to grasp when I was a new parent of a toddler. I am more of a Type-A personality, used to solving problems head-on. If my child’s behavior is a problem, there must be something I can do about it, right?! It was a real epiphany to me that you can hold these two truths in your head at the same time: “I am a good mom with sufficient parenting skills” AND “My child will misbehave.”
This is when I started saying the phrase, “That’s just how kids are.” It was seriously a shock to me how difficult parenting is and how bad kids are! Of course, I don’t mean bad, but there is a lot of unpleasantness that I was not expecting. I had to say that phrase over and over, and at first I really didn’t believe it. This can’t be how parenting really is! Why didn’t someone warn me?! You don’t see the worst behavior of other children in public (and if you do, you assume they usually aren’t like that), and I became obsessed with wondering how my child compared to other little kids. Was she worse? Better? By how much? I secretly wished I had a camera in other moms’ homes so I could see how things really were.
Because I had unrealistic expectations, I became unduly irritated at what I perceived as misbehavior. One incident that sticks out in my mind is putting on my two-year-old’s shoes. She was fighting me and kicking her feet at me. Looking back it seems silly that I was so shocked, but at the time I was very irritated and angry! Just put your *&%$ shoes on! After a while (and a few kids) I came to see that as normal and even expected behavior. I got used to the general, every day difficult behaviors. Children will fight the shoes, the car seat, eating dinner, and going to bed. I had to learn to be patient through all of it. Part of the problem was I was magnifying these problems and viewing them as a reflection of my parenting skills or self-worth. Once I truly believed this was normal behavior, I was also able to believe that I was a competent parent.
So I realized that parenting becomes easier when you have the appropriate expectations of children and when you are accustomed to their behavior. It also helps to focus on the good parts more than the difficult parts. Reinforcing your child’s positive behaviors helps you focus your attention on what the child is doing right more than wrong. Another skill is being grateful for the tender moments with your child: when she’s on your lap and you’re reading a book; when she hugs you and says, “I love you”; when she learns how to do something for the first time. Unfortunately, it took me quite a while to do learn these lessons. I am so grateful that in my parenting now the tender and fun moments far outweigh the irritating moments.
You have to understand and believe that not only is misbehavior normal, but children’s behavior is very complicated. They are motivated and controlled by so many different factors, physical and emotional. You can’t know or understand all those factors. Many times the reasons for their misbehavior are a mystery. Sometimes there isn’t a quick fix to that particular problem at that particular time. You can’t let their behavior undermine your self-worth as a parent. All you can do is be the best parent you can be, and trust that is enough. Again, having confidence in your parenting principles can give you the security to get through difficult situations. It’s easy to get focused on specific misbehaviors and bogged down by what that behavior means about you and/or your child. But it’s better to look at the big picture. Keep your focus on your core parenting strategies, and don’t worry if they don’t work all the time or if you’re not sure of the correct response to one particular problem.
Remember, the tantrums, the whining, the stubbornness and all their other difficult behaviors are an important part of their normal development. THAT’S JUST HOW KIDS ARE!