Childishness or foolishness?
There’s a vast difference between the two; however, finding the line can be difficult. Childishness can be defined as actions or behaviour befitting a child. Rather, foolishness pertains to the lacking in judgment or discretion. In terms of applying this to parenting, punishing childish behaviour can be damaging to a child’s emotional and developmental wellbeing (1). On the other hand, concentrating on enabling a child’s ability to make good choices is a skill that’s imperative throughout life (2).
My Examples/My Understanding
Childish: I’ve had a busy day and my poor children have been dragged along with it. In this case, I have to lower my expectations; so then, if my children’s behaviour is appalling, who’s fault is that? Mostly mine. So I have to bear the brunt of it.
Foolish: My son (3) knows how to annoy his sister. Sometimes he hits her, not in anger but because he knows he can get a reaction out of her. I get the power thing, but the attitude of subjecting someone to suffering for a temporal feeling of gain is not a habitual attitude I want to foster.
Childish: I meet a friend in the shop with my 2-year-old. My 2-year-old has never seen this person before and my friend leans down close and says, “Hello!” My child goes “eh” and turns his head into my shoulder. This is perfectly normal behaviour for a child. I don’t expect my toddler to embrace someone new right away.
Foolish: I expect my 9-year-old to be polite, even if she feels shy. Saying “Hello” when greeted is within her capabilities. If then, she has a bad attitude and just decides to be rude, well, that is something I would address with her.
When it can be tricky
When I read the post 10 Things I won’t Discipline, I was reminded to carefully choose what behaviour to discipline. The author, Zoey, has thought about what she believes to be childish behaviour and therefore doesn’t discipline. I’m not entirely into writing lists because what is important for one can differ from another, and not necessarly are either right or wrong. However, I get the message behind the post: don’t punish natural childish behaviour.
Childish: Zoey left a permanent marker within her child’s grasp, and of course her 2-year-old found it and I’m sure, had a lovely time drawing on the walls. You see, that is childish behaviour. Of course a 2-year-old is going to experiment with an available pen.
Foolish:I’m not speaking for Zoey here, rather I’m writing about my own experience on the situation. This EXACT scenario has happened many times with my own children due to pens being left out. If my child hasn’t done this before, I explain that walls, unless it’s a special wall, are not for drawing. Here is where foolish behaviour can come in. If then, my child, who I know understands my expectations (and I’m careful about this; true understanding can take some time), deliberately disobeys me, this, in my opinion, can be seen as foolish behaviour, if repeated over and over again.
Why is it tricky? I find it difficult to decide which battles to choose and the balance between having a functioning house (and a sane mother), yet a nurturing one.
Choose the Hill
Obviously, expectations differ according to the age of a child and family situation. With a toddler, this is when “Choose which hill to die on” comes in. (Intrigued to know what means? You’ll have to read the post.) So, if enforcing “no drawing” on the wall is not where you are at, just keep pens away from busy hands, and if you forget, do what Zoey does and suck it up.
This is a expert from my post Little Billies, Toast and the Terrible Twos:
“Your child hasn’t moved on from a sippy-cup like other children? Your child is taking a l–o–n–g time to get the sharing concept? A wise parent is guided by others, but filters everything in regards to how it fits in with their own family values. Stick to your plan and be guided by how your child is doing rather than what other children are doing. Remember you, and your child, can’t master everything at once.”
Choose your battles carefully is my point, and this will differ with every family.
Finding the line
How to find the balance? I like to look at it like this: much of childish behaviour comes down to actions rather than attitude; much of foolish behaviour comes down to attitude rather than actions.
If the actions are powered by a foolish attitude, I work on it. If the action is just that — a childish action, I think of it as childish behaviour. (I own that attitude can be childish at times too; I’m speaking generally here.)
I found this helpful list from GrowingKids.org:
* Don’t assume your child knows rules. Explain things to your child as age appropriate.
* Don’t assume your child will realize that if something is wrong, similar things are also wrong.
* Be sure your child understands what you are telling him.
* Be sure you tell your child not only what not to do, but what to do.
* Observe your child for a moment before assuming he is being disobedient.
I do wonder how four extremely different people could come from just two but it’s true: all my children are different. In my post Personality: Heads and Tails, I discuss the negative and positive side to personalities. This also can be applied when deciding what is expected from each child (if you have more than one). For example, my eldest daughter is naturally disorganised, yet creative, and so I accommodate for this as much as I can. I don’t expect her room to be tidy all the time. In contrast, my number two daughter loves to be organised and her room is often tidy. I don’t think it’s fair to hold my eldest daughter to my second daughter’s expectations. They are different and have different strengths and weaknesses.
Expect to be judged
Alas, sad but true. Can I tell you a story? When I was young, I lived in a remote village in Papua New Guinea for some years. Meat was rare, so my Mother taught me to spread peanut butter thick on bread as one of the many measures she took to ensure I was cared for nutritionally. Soon after our return to Australia, our family went visiting and for lunch, we made our own sandwiches. The lady was horrified at how much peanut butter I put on my bread and told my Mother so, implying that I was greedy. I’m sure my Mother felt terrible but she wasn’t angry with me. She just explained that I had done nothing wrong, but need to respect the rules of the respective house. You know, I still spread peanut butter thick; to me it is just the way it’s meant to be.
In my own experiences as a mother, I too have been judged many times for my actions. If I use the example of drawing on the walls, some may dissaprove of the expectations I have for my 2-year-old and the lack of a 100% child proof house. In my case, I’ve lived in rental properties for 10 years now, moving every year or so and I’ve had 4 children under six years and so to me, it’s important to teach my children not to draw on the walls from a young age. The reasons? Firstly, the house we live in is not our own. Secondly, although I do teach my older children to put pens away, it’s impossible for me to stay sane if I was to run around and pick up every pen that was left out. I’m going for sane here.
If parents could support each other without judging each other, it would be a very wonderful thing. Be discerning: yes; judgemental: no.
Expect to be wrong
If you are anything like me, you are going to get the balance wrong — a lot. I’ve learnt to constantly eat humble pie, say sorry to my children and pray. I don’t know anyone who gets it right all the time so you’ll be in good company.
Is it working?
My daughter (9) spontaneously came to me this afternoon while I was typing away, sat on my lap and said, “Mum, can I just sit with you for a little bit because I feel like I haven’t been really respectful of you lately. I love you so much.” Bless! What a joy. Through all my mistakes, I must be doing something right.
There is so much to take in account when parenting, that’s why it’s SO HARD!
Is your child’s behaviour childish or foolish? Take a moment to decide and eat humble pie if you’re wrong.
1. Campbell, R. 2003, How to Really Love Your Child, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL. p.38.
2. Fisher, R. 2005, Teaching Children to Think, Nelson Thornes Ltd, Cheltenham, UK.