(This column was first published on yowoto.)
Question: Does a kid ever stop misbehaving?
Answer: Even adults don’t.
Kids don’t stop misbehaving; they don’t stop doing the things that embarrass their parents. Of course, they don’t keep doing the same things through their growing years. They simply stop one thing that is bugging you and start doing something else that will bug you just as much—you have to give them marks for consistency.
Until recently, my son was answering everything he was asked with ‘Potty’. Ask him his name and he’d say ‘potty’. Ask him my name and he’d say ‘potty’. Ask him what he did at school and he’d say ‘potty’. He might be speaking the truth there, but I’m sure you get my point. This was becoming really embarrassing for us because he’d say ‘potty’ in front of friends and strangers alike. At first, we scolded him for saying the word so much. But it didn’t stop him from saying it. Scolding just made him say ‘sorry’ quickly after he’d said ‘potty’. Then, seeing that scolding wasn’t working, we started to feign ignorance. We’d pretend he hadn’t said the word. I’m not sure if this strategy worked or not, but he did eventually stop replying to everything with ‘potty’.
But it wasn’t long before he found a new way to misbehave. He started spitting as a sign or annoyance and anger. He’d spit on us if we didn’t give him what he wanted. Of course, this was more embarrassing than the whole potty thing, especially when we were with other people, but there was nothing we could do except wait it out. We knew from experience that scolding wasn’t going to work, so we went back to the ignorance strategy. In between, we’d keep telling him he was a bad boy for spitting on us and that bad boys didn’t get good stuff; but that only made him spit on us with even more enthusiasm. However, eventually, he did stop spitting.
And then, he started kicking.
Look, kids are kids. We love them because they’re kids and we have to take some misbehaviour in our stride. This doesn’t mean that you stop telling them to not misbehave. No. You have to keep telling them, no matter how much it feels like ramming your head against a wall. But you shouldn’t expect the results to be instantaneous. Scolding might work on some kids, ignoring might work on others, nothing might work on some. What option do you have except waiting it out anyway?
So just take it easy. Don’t let yourself get annoyed by it. Don’t get embarrassed either, because the people you socialise with also know that they’re children. And children misbehave. No, period. All of them do, all the time.
Just remember, you’ve done your job as a parent fairly well if they stop misbehaving by the time they’re adults!