The other night, when a little boy who came over, picked up and began to play with Ziya’s toy guitar, the entire of this garden-gnome-sized toddler went into full defensive gear. She brought in her temper tantrum dance which consists of shifting back and forth unevenly and erratically from one foot to another, like a version of Muhammad Ali floating like a butterfly in the ring, but with the grace of an angry 22 month old. She began to howl like Native Americans gone to war, except her attempts at fear-inducing decibels were pierced with ringing punctuations of ‘mommy!’ And she began to pelt slaps at the bigger and stunned-into-standstill older child like a heavy-handed, unstoppably forward-pressing and fearless sumo wrestler. It was easy to conclude from this that she was either not taught to or had refused to learn how to share, and that she was spoilt and selfish or was going to grow up to be. It was easy to respond by either insisting on giving the guitar to the little boy as a way of teaching her how to behave or using the moment to give her a mini-lecture meant to set boundaries on her indiscipline.
Luckily, I had observed that Aunty at day care doesn’t let other children take the things belonging to little ones in her care even while encouraging them to share. Turns out that at this age, children are learning to define themselves in relation to the persons and objects around them. It’s a possessive phase. In a few months, Aunty reassured me, when Ziya is closer to two and half years old, she’ll be much more likely and receptive to sharing her toys with others. Pushing her to do so now would just be teaching her a lesson that doesn’t match her life stage and wouldn’t be easily received.
Hearing this helped me to figure out how to understand Ziya’s reaction and how to approach my own. As a parent, it’s important to understand babies’ life stages because that can determine how you deal with everything from tantrums to sharing to touching. It’s not that your child is bad, it’s that she or he is two years old and beginning to assert an independence. It’s not that your child is perverted or immoral, it’s that discovering their genitals is a natural part of their own development. It’s not that mini lectures, quarrelling, anger or beating helps, it’s that they may entirely miss the moment.
So many parents, myself included, may be entirely clueless about these things, maybe because we are too busy to read the ‘What to Expect..’ book for this age group or maybe because we were brought up with parents who believed in beating you into submission or maybe because we make assumptions that children are bad behaved when they are actually just entering or experiencing a natural segment of their growth, with its specific and trying challenges, dilemmas, emotions and upheavals.
It’s tough to know if what is happening is normal or is your parenting gone wrong, but it can make a big difference to how you help your child learn what matters, with the patience, understanding and gentle encouragement that can register in exactly the right way at the right time. Me, I’m back to reading every night about Llama Llama, who first learned to go to school even if he missed Mama and who is now learning to share his toys with the Nelly Gnu, the new girl next door. Ziya totally gets the concept of sharing, she’s just not entirely ready, but hopefully one day soon we’ll both be a little more prepared to make it happen when and how it should.
(In the meantime, I’m not supposed to laugh about it, but I tell you, clearly nobody can downpress my girl or woe be unto them!)