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December 22, 2017
Four years old is kinda magical. Imaginations are running wild and free.
I love watching my daughter orchestrate an entire wedding event in her playroom at the drop of a hat. Someone needs an archaeologist to find all the dinosaur bones in the bathroom? She’s all over that. But four years old brings its challenges (and tantrums), too.
My most recent testing zone of patience and grace? The zoo. The zoo is actually one of my favorite places to go with my kids. We get fresh air, my baby is all excited to see that there are elephants in REAL life, too (she throws her arm up in the air like a trunk going “Pffffffffff…”” every time one walks by). It’s an amazing place to learn about nature and it’s also an amazing place to learn some manners.
The other day, with one kid strapped to me and the other one bouncing along in a stroller, I braved that place like a boss. I packed all our own snacks, made sure we had sunscreen and worked hard to set expectations before we left.
“When we get to the zoo there will be other children going to see the exhibits,” I said. “You’re bringing your zoo key (a little piece of plastic shaped like a key you can insert into a machine that plays an educational recording about the animal in front of you). There might be other children who want to use their key to listen, too. If they’re using the key station before you get there, wait quietly for your turn. There’s no need to let them know that you’re waiting – they see you there. If you’re using a key and a child says that they would like to use it, just let them know with your polite words that you’ll be just a minute.”
Most importantly, I said, “And remember what happens if we throw a fit over using the zoo key machine or waiting for our turn to use it?”
“Yep, I get the zoo key taken away. If I do it twice, we leave the zoo.”
Feeling extremely proud of my expert pediatrician and parenting forethought, we entered the gates enthusiastically. It seemed like for the first two zoo key stations, we were doing just fine. Everyone was sharing and there were tons of please and thank-yous. But, about one hour in, once the shine wore off, I saw those manners start to fade. Even though we prepared with good rest and a good meal before we started on our adventure, things started to unravel. I turned to grab a toy that fell out of my baby’s hand and looked up to see a full-on brawl about to ensue (by the way, if you’re in need of toddler tantrum help, we have a free guide here).
My little girl was red-faced and sweaty, holding her hands over her inserted zoo key while another boy asked her if he may have a turn listening about how flamingos stand on one foot, too.
“NOOOOO! It’s mine! It’s MY turn!” In, what seemed like an instant, she was screaming.
The boy stared at her, a bit dumbfounded, not sure what to make of this reaction to his simple request (it turns out he had asked for a turn but also motioned to put his key in instead of hers, which is what set her off. If only I had prepped her for every possible scenario when things don’t go her way, I smirked).
Yep, I took that zoo key right away and I let her know that our time at the zoo was done for the day if it happened again.
The second was more offensive.
The mother of that little boy proceeded to give my child the biggest stink eye I have ever seen. She glared at my daughter long and hard…And then she raised her eyes and glared at me. “Wow, nice,” she said.
The mommy shaming was UNREAL.
Now, I am a pediatrician. I see all types of behavior issues in clinic every day. There are some behaviors that really ARE a result of poor parenting practices. I’ve had times when I guide a parent to shift their approach with their kids and they see immediate, amazing results. But that’s not always true. Parents are only half (or sometimes less than half) of the behavior equation. There are external pressures and stressors, there are temperament factors and then there is the reality that kids cannot be completely controlled.
Like in all of our interactions with other human beings, we are responsible for our behaviors, for setting limits and appropriate boundaries and (for our kids) for providing fair consequences when lines are crossed. Our kids are in charge of their sometimes less than desirable reactions or responses to that guidance.
If we have a solid child development understanding, are setting expectations and are following through on them consistently in a loving but firm way, we’ve got to be okay with the idea that sometimes the cards will fall how they may. We can’t feel so bad when our children’s behavior doesn’t always reflect all the effort we are putting in.
That can be so tough. But why? I’ll speak for myself and for most of the other parents I know: it’s because sometimes we are really embarrassed by the behavior and because we know that other people are watching us with pretty unforgiving eyes (obviously, if you see someone blatantly being verbally, physically or emotionally abusive to their kids, shame away and stick up for those young souls. I’m just talking about people up on their high horse when they see a little tantrum).
That’s just life.
I’ve decided to put my blinders on, as much as possible, to the mom shaming I see all around me. Haters gonna hate. Let’s focus instead on loving on our kids, doing the best by them and raising them up to be their best selves long term, however long it takes.
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