Toddlers lack an understanding of empathy. And that is why they cannot understand that they have wronged someone.
Parenting gets progressively difficult as the child grows up. It is even tougher for your first child. The easiest part is probably the first few months when the only worry you really have is feeding the baby and changing nappies. She loves you unconditionally, giggles every time you do something funny, and overall, is never angry with you.
But wait till she starts crawling. As she starts to explore the world, she realizes that she has a will of her own. Why do you think a happy camper infant suddenly becomes a picky eater? She starts to understand that there are more than one ways to do a thing. Pretty soon, she is transformed into a parenting nightmare - throwing things, pulling the table mat, drinking out of the toilet... The list never ends.
Things are going to be tough
The worst fear of a parent is when their toddler comes home with a complaint from someone she has just hounded. In her defense, the dog's floppy ear was begging to be pulled. Or, she wanted the toy her friend was playing with, period. It is moments like these when you wish that Harry's invisibility cloak was real, and in fact, in your possession.
What do you do next? You corner your toddler and make her apologize. You know she does not mean what she says, but you do it anyway. The reason - you want to fit in the society.
Well, even I thought that this was the right way till I read an article categorically stating that toddlers don't care if they hurt someone. They just want to have their way, being an unstoppable vortex of energy and all. And the way you address it is really important in the long run.
The thought process of a toddler
As an infant, your baby made you proud by clapping her hands on demand. She never let you down when you humble-bragged about her 'achievements'. She always performed in front of your friends, and you were getting used to it, till one day, she defied you by not listening to you. You said 'no' and she continued anyway. And in the confusion, you let her get away with her defiance.
This is a new phase in a toddler's life. She has just discovered an identity of her own. This primitive play-doh that is her personality is going to be shaped by what she observes henceforth. There are two things that are going on with her. Firstly, she is trying to imitate a person of influence - you, her sibling, her teacher, somebody whom she trusts to a large extent. Secondly, she is trying to develop a personality.
For the second thing to happen, her trust in the person of influence needs to run deep. If it is you, as is the case in most of the firstborns, she is going to try and imitate you to a large extent. She is going to pick up your vocabulary, love the people you love, and be guarded around the people whom you don't trust.
But on top of that, she is going try out new things and do as she pleases. Even if you dissuade her, she is going to continue doing things unless they cause real, physical pain. As she grows up, though, she is going to develop a liking for a few things and she will simply outgrow the rest.
How to tackle embarrassing situations around your aggressive toddler
More often than not, you may have to deal with complaints from friends, neighbors, younger siblings, older siblings, play group, or just bear the judging gaze of an elderly person on a bus. You have to remember this one thing: if children were as sensible as adults, perhaps they would have had a right to vote. So till they have that--and even, afterwards--they are going to land in a mess, and you, as a parent, are going to bail them out. And till they turn four, you need not really make them apologize as they do not understand empathy anyway.
If you force them to apologize, they get confused, as they have not realized that they have caused an inconvenience to another person. They do not understand the concept of role reversal, and as the act has not caused them physical pain, they do not realize that it is something that should be avoided.
Here are 3 things you can do in order to address the situation at hand.
1. Encourage them to use words instead of hands
Many times, a toddler throws a fit or misbehaves because he does not know how else to vent out his frustration. Encouraging your toddler to explain in words, or by using relatable examples will solve the problem in the long run. You can spare the proverbial rod and yet not spoil the child by encouraging him to speak his heart out.
2. Apologize on their behalf
Do that without inducing guilt or shame in your child. Shame is predominantly an oriental concept and us Asians are guilty of using it quite frequently on our children. It may create self-doubt in their minds and in turn hamper their performance later on in life.
Instead, just write a note to the friend who was hurt by your kid and ask him to decorate it with hugs and kisses.
3. Introduce empathy
If he sees you empathizing, he will pick it up. But a faster way is to ask how he would feel if he was at the wrong end in this situation. Maybe he will see it, maybe he will still defend his stance. And that is okay. Keep on doing it and he will understand how it feels to be in other person's shoes.
Moms and dads, your child is just a toddler. His misdemeanor is not a reflection of your ability as a parent. It is just a kid being silly. Let him be. It is not going to last long, is it?
This article was originally published on theAsianparent Singapore.
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