Monday, August 15, 2016

Parenthood: Week 165 - The Rudeness of Toddlers

“Hey man, watch this. You see that girl over there? She is almost never excited to see me. She usually gives me a skeptical ‘who are you?’ Here we go . . ANGIE [arms outstretched]!”

With a big a smile on her face, that three year-old, who has known me all her life, who doesn’t always show me that she is excited to see me, gave me a big hug and let me pick her up and spin her around. That completely melted my heart.

I know that Angie likes me. Every time I play with her, she is receptive, I’ve held her many times in her life, and she’s comfortable with me. Like many toddler she is still learning the social customs of greeting people so there have been times when I’ve enthusiastically greeted her and she’s looked at me like I’m crazy or simply walked away. Then five minutes later I’ll ask her is she wants me to read a book to her and she’ll crawl into my lap.

As toddlers get older, their emotions and feelings develop. Smiles get bigger, the laughs get louder and their anger gets more intense. Their faces, voices and bodies become more expressive and subtleties in emotions begin to emerge. In addition, toddlers develop the ability to perceive the emotions of other people, which directly affect the way that they emotionally respond to the world around them.

While all of this development is going on, we as parents continue to teach these toddlers social customs. It’s important that toddlers learn how to greet people, show gratitude and to leave a social situation appropriately.

Social customs often asks us to put aside our own emotions and feelings. For example, if you are feeling depressed and anti-social, you are still suppose to fake a smile and say “hello” when somebody greets you. Even if you don’t like somebody, it’s expected that you will say “thank you” to them when they do give you something.

Now trying to teach social customs to a child who is learning how to genuinely feel and express their own emotions is difficult. I don’t want my son to be rude but when he’s sad that we are leaving somewhere and he doesn’t want to say bye to people, I understand. He’s dealing with how it feels to not want to go and then I’m asking him be polite a say goodbye. Sometimes that’s too much to ask.

I don’t love the fact that being polite in our culture sometimes means that we mask our true emotions and feelings. It’s one of those compromises we make to be social animals, but I want to make sure that Ollie understands that this compromise should never invalidate his feelings.

When a toddler is being rude, it’s not that they are uncaring or that their parents aren’t teaching them how to be polite. Often it’s just too much for that little human being to handle at the moment. 

Embrace how genuine emotional expression is with toddlers. It doesn’t feel great to not get a polite greeting, but if they don’t feel like it, I’m okay with that. Because I know when I get a hug like Angie’s, it’s real and from the heart.

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