No one imagines that their sweet fuzzy-haired infant will morph into a toddler who bites and terrorizes other children, or who refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets for days at a time.
Parents often imagine that if they just do everything right and provide the best toys and intellectual stimulation for their children, their kids will meet all of their developmental milestones and behave in socially appropriate ways. If only this were true.
And while most parents expect to deal with tantrums and coloring on the walls, there are some things that people tend not to talk about when parenting young children.
- No matter how wonderful and attentive you are as a parent, your child will do things that horrify, upset, or embarrass you. You may read all the best parenting books out there, have a gentle, respectful parenting approach, and you child will go through a phase where she bites anyone who even thinks about taking her toy. Your 4-year-old may refuse to be potty-trained, or your 3-year-old may blurt out inappropriate comments to people at the mall. Sometimes there are serious reasons for behaviors like this, so check it out with your pediatrician if you’re concerned, but often kids with wonderful, caring parents behave in not-so-wonderful ways.
- Kids are sexual beings. It’s often at this stage that children discover that parts of their body have some really nice feelings. They also are naturally curious about how boys and girls are different. Keep calm and don’t freak out or shame the child if you find them touching their genitals. It’s acceptable to explain that if they want to touch themselves on their private areas, they need to do it in their bedroom. Be prepared for questions about where babies come from. Above all, keep conversations about a child’s sexuality simple, positive and non-shaming. Again, if you have any questions about how your child is acting in regards to his or her sexuality, address it with your pediatrician immediately. There are some forms of acting out that are signs of abuse or mistreatment, but most often it’s perfectly natural and healthy.
- You are not a perfect parent. You will mess up, and you’ll make mistakes. You’ll yell at your kids, you’ll be caught lying to them, you’ll be inconsistent. Do the best that you can with what you have. Apologize when you screw up, and keep trying. If one thing doesn’t work, try another. When kids see their parents making mistakes and moving on, they will be gentle on themselves when they make mistakes.
Being the parent of a young child is exhausting, frightening and exhilarating. They’re at an age when they’re learning to reason, to understand the world around them, and they are able to connect to their parents and others on a deeper level. Their individual personalities start to shine through.
It can be tempting to be so focused on raising your child that your relationships suffer. Don’t let this happen. Take time with your partner and your friends.
Grow your sense of self beyond simply that as a mother or father. And make sure you enjoy this stage of your child’s development. Play with them, laugh at their nonsensical jokes, talk with them.
At this age, they want you to be a part of their world. A few years from now, that might not be the case.