Attention, Parents of Very Small Children

Up to a certain age it is normal and expected for your offspring to fail to distinguish between minor irritants, perceived slights, dull discomforts, petty jealousies, cranky moods, and emergencies. Where your child is at now, everything is an emergency, and the only way to address any such emergency is to annoy you.

This is all obvious to anyone who’s been a parent, in fact it’s the story of your life right now. But let’s have a refresher course about that last word shall we? You. Parents & maybe the big siblings. Family. For the rest of us, it isn’t as cute as you seem to think it is.

But that that’s not as important as what follows, nor is there as much breathtaking ignorance about it as there is about what follows.

Doing whatever it is you have to do to get the “BLLLAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!!!” to stop is not your top priority. Shaking the favorite doll and making a funny face, giving the child whatever it is that it wants, murmuring “Shshshshsh,” offering it your soothing voice, saying its name, singing a song — this is not Job One. No, Job One is to express your disapproval.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Because I’m a middle aged fat man with a sedentary lifestyle, I spent the first half of today on my mountain bike. But I don’t do forty or fifty or sixty miles in one stretch. I take prolonged rest stops in populated retail places, catching up on various projects on my laptop, and maybe that’s a mistake since I don’t have the right temperament for the strangers who surround me. But it’s becoming an all too common sight to see parents shushing their noisy demanding young children through various means without taking any effort whatsoever to work on Job One. Some of them are actually sensitive to the pressing demand of Job Two which is to spare the nearby strangers a migraine by bringing the cacaphony to an end. Without killing the child. And don’t get me wrong, that is appreciated. But how in the world do you think kids grow out of this?

Everywhere I look where there is a child that is young, it always seems to be happening like this. The parents do the whatever, but it’s never made clear to the child that there is a societal/cultural expectation that this protocol should eventually change. Not a single indication of it; not so much as a trace, not a syllable, not a peep. The child is, in effect, held to the same profile of acceptable behavior that applies to a newborn when the child is no longer a newborn. By the time the signature noise becomes a weary but piercing squawk, the signs are there that the child is picking up the idea that this is normal behavior. That, and that it is always, always, always the child’s turn to make the noise. Nobody within earshot has anything else demanding their attention, at least nothing worthy of it. Simple formula preserved from baby-hood: I want something, minus having it, equals an emergency. Emergency equals yelling, and what good is yelling if it doesn’t reverberate off the farthest wall?

People who are older than me, make it abundantly clear that this is not the way it worked when they were kids. When I was a kid, there was something of a schism going on; some parents thought it was the job of the rest of the world do things for their kids, and other parents thought it was the job of their kids to do something for the world. Now it seems this conflict has reached a conclusion. It seems all the kids are being raised the same way and I’m not sure I like it, nor am I pondering where it all leads with too much satisfaction.

Try “no.” It’s a single syllable, for a reason. Your child is ready for this broadening of the horizons much, much earlier than you think. Yeah yeah, I know, “self esteem” and what not. Did it ever occur to you that self worth might be different from a feeling of self worth? Or, that an occasional rejection maybe, just maybe, might not inflict lifetime damage upon either one of those?

Maybe, by hovering around the retail environments, I’m only seeing a piece of society. A random sampling that isn’t that random. Maybe it’s like the cop who goes out to too many domestic disputes and becomes convinced the world’s going to pot, because he’s seen an average that isn’t an average. Maybe the “Always Junior’s Turn to Talk & Squawk” fad is merely an aberration.

Even though I’m seeing it everywhere I look. Maybe the generation that is coming up, is considerably different from what I am seeing.

Hope so.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Washington Rebel.

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