There is a part of the Jewish morning service in which we thank God for giving us a soul that is pure. The first story in the Torah teaches is that we are made ‘in God’s image’. I try to remember these things when people are jerks. I believe that we are all responsible for ourselves, so I’m comfortable accepting that some of the adults that I interact with are a**holes.
Little kids, however, are awesome. Yet they are sometimes described with adjectives they don’t deserve.
I’m calling shenanigans on unkind words I hear assigned to our little ones. Stop apologizing or worrying that your munchkin’s behavior foretells a lifetime of anti-social, violent or aggressive tendencies. Young children are in a critical period for many aspects of development: social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual. As parents, we are trying to support them through this incredible, joyful, stressful process. The good news is that infants and toddlers lack the social, cognitive, and emotional sophistication to be any of the following things:
Yes, your kid will likely do things that we consider to be “bad,” including physically hurting others damaging others’ things, and (when they begin to acquire verbal skills) saying things that hurt others’ feelings. But there is no malice in very young children. Testing boundaries, exploring their power, and discovering cause and effect are the primary jobs of a little one, preparing them for a lifetime of learning and relationships.
Very young children haven’t had time to develop sophisticated verbal and emotional skills, so we must “read” their needs, wants and feelings from whatever verbal and non-verbal communication that they offer. Yes, they might cry in order to elicit certain attention from their caregivers. In a teenager, that might be manipulation — but not in an infant or a toddler. Manipulation involves planning and the intention to exploit someone for our own benefit — things the infant or toddler brain isn’t capable of.
As an adult, you have perspective. You are familiar with a wealth of emotions, conversations and experiences. You understand social constructs and have developed some level of self-control. Your baby or toddler does not have these things. So when a little one doesn’t respond to someone’s greeting, shows displeasure at someone else’s cooking, cries when a stranger smiles, talks when someone else is talking, wanders away from a person who is leading an activity, or get very upset by the idea of sharing — they are not being rude, but simply revealing areas of potential growth for their social, verbal and emotional development.
It isn’t there. No need to comment on an infant’s ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’. Little kids suck on things, like being naked, and enthusiastically explore how all their body parts move and feel. No relationship between those behaviors and their future sexuality. Jokes that imply that there is just don’t make any sense — and they’re gross. Shut it down.
All young children are learning and growing, at different rates and in different ways. The primary task of young children is to learn, which they do by gathering information through their senses. (If you have concerns that your child is delayed in development or that something about their learning and growth is atypical, talk to a professional about evaluation so that appropriate interventions can be considered.)
Trust me, your child will grow and learn, and as they get older, they might exploit your generosity, lie to you, and otherwise disappoint you. When that happens, you can remind yourself that each of us is divinely created and that our souls are pure. But for now, enjoy the innocence of early childhood.