Our dear little angel has hit a milestone. Normally, we’d be so proud. We’d post it on Facebook and tell our friends. But, this one has a different ring to it. Finally, at three-and-a-half years of age, our little sweetheart has become defiant.
Kassandra has had the benefit of growing up with lots of older siblings. She has lots of playmates and, unfortunately for her, a group of teens and young adults who are always ready to remind her when she needs to follow the rules. Now, in the past couple of weeks, Kassa realizes that she doesn’t like the rules.
She has also learned an impressive vocabulary from her older siblings. She understands much more than most children her age, simply by being exposed to it. She is a like an only child in that regard. She spends her days with adults, so she uses the words she most frequently hears. You know where this is going, right? My teens and young adults, like many teens and young adults, choose to use words that aren’t necessarily appropriate for a little person to use. And, even though they try to remember to hold their tongues, they sometimes forget. Those are the words that Kassa latches onto and remembers above all others.
But, it’s the outright defiance that is defining her right now. Before this, Kassa was the type of child who listened to reason. If we explained why we wanted her to do something, then she was quick to go along. Now, she says “NO!” just to say no.
“Kassa, it’s time for your bath.” “NO!” “You can have your dessert after bathtime.” “NO!” “You can put on your favorite unicorn jammies.” “NO!”
And, heaven forbid anyone try to carry her to the bathroom. You’d think the world was ending. “Mommy!” And, if she gets free, she runs to me. Even natural consequences like falling when she climbs up on a bathroom counter or trips when running through the woods are not strong enough deterrents right now.
Eventually, she will agree that we are probably right and she needs a bath or to slow down or to stay on the floor, but she makes it clear that it’s going to be on her timeline, not ours.
All kids go through stages where control is their ultimate desire. Infants do it when they first discover mobility, but can’t do everything they want to do, so they cry to get our attention. Two to three year olds do it when they recognize that they can do things on their own. Middle school aged kids are notorious for their desire to control their worlds. They aren’t little kids anymore, but they just don’t have the wisdom to act like adults. And, then senioritis hits just a few years later. Our 18 year olds set off on whatever path they’ve chosen to make their own way in the world – or at least that’s how we envision it. But, they get to take responsibility for their own decisions at that point.
Imagine what it would be like to have to follow rules that make no sense to you. Oh wait! We have rules like that, don’t we? We have to follow rules about working, driving our cars, owning our houses, going to the store, or walking through town. We have to follow rules that don’t make sense or that we honestly just don’t like.
And, our job as parents is to teach our children how to navigate a world where the rules don’t make sense. Our job as parents is to teach our children how to express their opinions in calm and intelligent ways so that the weird rules might be changed one day. And, what better place to start than with us?
So, when Kassa starts to throw her tantrum, we calmly remind her that she needs to use her words to tell us why she’s so upset. If she wants to wave bye to me as I head to the office, then she needs to let us know that, not just throw a fit when we tell her to go inside. Usually, with a bit of discussion, we can all end up on the same side of the argument. She will agree to take her bath, or go to bed, or wash her hands, or leave the playground. And, we will agree to go back tomorrow, or give her dessert, or let her wear her favorite shirt, or have an extra story before bed.
We’re teaching her the art of compromise and negotiation. And, in my experience, there are many adults who could use the same lessons. Give you kids a head start.
- Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, 2 biological kids, Guardian of one adorable toddler, and has been the foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She has worked with kids in the foster care system for over two decades, actively advocating for all kids, but especially those in the LGBT community. And, in her spare time, she can be found preaching in some of our area’s most LGBT-friendly churches. Feel free to send your parenting questions to her at Pastor.Kelly@comcast.net.