Could this badly photographed toddler be badly behaved too?
All two-years olds are sociopaths my partner reassures me. Yes, but none of the other two-year olds we know seem to ever quite grow into the stages she is in. They never have that same degree of calculatedness. Well not all sociopaths are the same, some can be quite harmless he tells me; you’ve got the ones who take a leak in your sink instead of the toilet and you’ve got the sociopaths who rob banks. And he admits, ours tends more towards the robbing banks end of the spectrum. Which reminds me I must warn Lauca when she gets a little older that the government has her DNA on file, it was part of the agreement we signed in hospital for some of the standard paediatric tests performed at birth. Be careful if you’re considering a life of crime, little Miss.
I don’t want to label her behaviour because a) she is a two-year old and b) she can be and mostly is sweet, loving, and gentle. And I guess if I get right down to it, c) I don’t want to see her as a ‘meanie’, nor for others to see her in that light. But there is little getting around it, she’s got chutzpah! She’s assertive, very assertive, and clever, self-assured, persistent, agile and strong, and she’s also relatively fearless. In combination these traits mean she can very easily dominate other children. The difficulty is finding an appropriate response to this behaviour.
We’re trying the consequence-based, no-punishment parenting method (though don’t hold us against the book above, it really is very good, a little jolly hockey-sticks but good) so the obvious solution is to remove her when she behaves aggressively. Given that she is introverted (meaning draws her energy from time alone rather than in groups as opposed to being socially withdrawn), she is usually at her worst when she’s been around other little children for ‘too long’ and therefore less likely to be aggressive if she gets time away to re-charge. The problem I’ve been wrestling with since this dominating behaviour first emerged at around 10 months of age is that I’m on the extroverted side and I don’t want to leave the social situation, I’m already feeling socially short-changed by the isolation of motherhood. I make threats hoping I’ll never have to carry them out. “No pushing, if you push someone again then we’re going home.” Usually the very idea that something may be taken out of Lauca’s control is enough to rouse her to defend the position. “No go home, want to stay here and play”. “OK well no pushing”.
Sometimes I get unlucky, sometimes she’d like nothing better than a bit of time away from the group and the threat’s dishonesty is revealed. I spend dreary minutes counting the time-out I’ve given us to regroup or packing up to go home. But even worse than this can be the times Lauca dissolves in an outrageous protest, say when the toy she snatched is taken from her and given back to the poor toddler she’s just out-manouvered. She has no ordinary cry, she has a siren wail that drowns out everyone and everything around her, it knifes the ears, it pulverises the brain. The cry goes on and on. It occurs to me that on some primitive level Lauca believes in the law of the jungle. She earned that toy, she tricked it out of some little toddler fair and square. She can’t believe I would be so cruel as to steal her prize from her. Whenever I am about to intervene I feel an apprehension as I weigh up the odds in my head of a full-blown tantrum. Do I restore justice and risk triggering a melt-down in my own toddler, which will ultimately stop all conversations around us and probably alarm the other child for a good long while (at least longer than it would have taken for the child to recover from the insult of a snatched toy), or not? For if I leave this injustice alone I allow her to go merrily on her way – certain that the meek most certainly do not inheret the earth, which is not a lesson I am trying to teach her nor any other child. Anyway I’m big on social justice, aren’t I?
She’s possessive too. The playground is hers, the best friend is hers, the time with her father is hers, and hers alone. Oh she loves to play host to another child and prepare them a plate of morning tea, or kiss them on the cheeks in excitement, but sharing anything she loves, including playgrounds, best friends, and her father (even with her mother) strikes her as completely unreasonable. Actually its a stronger conviction than that she holds, sharing is an absurd imposition. The same outrage, the gobsmacking unfairness I feel over hitting, pushing, snatching, throwing things, and telling kids to go away, she feels about being asked to share something/someone she loves. There are various strategies I try with this conundrum but invariably at some point they all come undone.
I’m aware at the same time that everyone needs some assertiveness and girls particularly so. I don’t want to flatten an assertiveness that in the future will be sorely tested and even that may one day see her defending a good cause. Because then there was the other evening… we were waiting to pick up take-away and Lauca started playing with a little girl. Running up and down a ramp and climbing stairs, they played impromptuly together. But wait, the co-operative play was not even the surprise event. After 5 minutes her father came and chased the little girl momentarily before scooping her up. The little girl cried in disappointment at the disturbance to her game with Lauca. Then it happened. Lauca bolted back to us and with serious concern urged us to help the little girl who was ‘taken by a man’. I’m still yet to have the ‘stranger danger’ talk with her. This protectiveness was all her own.
And this is my sincerest hope, that one day she may use her powers for good instead of evil. That the embarrassment, the social fractures will have been worth it. One day that incredible assertiveness may be used to stand up and fight for something really important and that conviction of hers, that unwillingness to give up, that self-assuredness will see something really valuable won.