I was listening to a wonderful grandmother speaking on a radio phone-in this week, she was talking about how much she loved looking after her grandchildren. I think they let her speak for ages because she was so warm and sensible and laid-back about how she managed their behaviour and she was compelling to listen to. Her experience shone through and I was thinking how nice it would be to have a bit of that the first time round, when you’re the parent of small children.
I know what I’d have done differently if I’d known then what I know now.
One thing I know now is that generally children don’t have deep underlying psychological problems – they haven’t had time to amass them yet – and that an awful lot of their difficult behaviour boils down to one thing, frustration. It’s probably at the root of every negative feeling a child experiences.
Children just have lots of different ways of expressing it.
I have a son who used to express frustration by hitting and scratching and biting. I heard a lot of words from other parents like ‘spiteful’ and ‘bully’ and ‘nasty’ but I knew it was never premeditated. He would just lash out in anger.
It was awful at the time, I spent the first few years of my parenting life sobbing and apologising to every other parent.
At one Christmas party he did a tour round the large church hall full of tinsel and jolliness, knocking out every child in his path. He left a trail of destruction, weeping toddlers and furious mums, and I watched in horror from one end of the hall, paralysed with shame. We left early.
And I did of course try to stop him and teach him not to do it but had I known then what I know now I wouldn’t have wasted all that energy worrying that he had deep emotional and psychological problems. I would have been far more robust and matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I would have dealt with ‘Inappropriate Ways of Expressing Frustration’ rather than ‘Possible Deep Underlying Psychosis’ and I don’t know whether it would have made him learn any quicker but I’m sure it would have kept me far saner.
Children just react to frustration in different ways and I was dealing with a case of high ‘frustration-intolerance’. My son is twenty-one now and after all these years there’s still no sign of that deep underlying psychosis I spent so much time worrying about…