When Did Typical Childhood Behavior Become ‘Undesirable’?

3 min read

Earlier this month, I was asked to co-host an online webinar for parents aimed at helping them understand and manage several “undesirable behaviors.” Among them were recognizable universal moments in the early years of childhood: attention-seeking behavior, use of inappropriate language, and troubles parents had with their children’s separation anxiety.

Why Undesirable?

For many decades, I have written, talked, and blogged about these topics, as they arise so frequently in the lives of concerned parents who are working hard to support their children’s growth. But when I saw “undesirable behaviors” in the run-of-show prompts, it suddenly hit me: Why call them “undesirable”? Inconvenient and stressful, yes, but this list of annoyances is a list of developmental behaviors, each providing an opportunity to develop bedrock social and emotional coping skills.

Most of the infant’s social and behavioral cues—smiling, crying, fussing, laughing—are attention-seeking, and a good thing, too, because they need our attention to survive. Toddlers and preschoolers experiment with foul language because they can’t help but notice (and enjoy) its explosive power when used with and by adults. Separation “anxiety” is a normal rung on the ladder to self-reliance and autonomy, which is why I prefer the term separation “awareness.” It is a good idea to prepare yourself for being left by someone you need, but, in my experience, separation anxiety persists longer in the leaving parent than in the left child.

These “behaviors”—as with all behaviors—have meaning and are part of the endless parenthood adventure to decode, as best we can, miscue after miscue until that transcendent moment when your child affirms in their eyes, or with a hug, that you “got it” enough to help them manage what moments ago seemed unmanageable.

The extraordinary adventure of creating and shaping a life for which you are responsible seems to have lost its sense of excitement and joy of late. As I surf through parenting blogs and groups, “overwhelmed” is a frequent flyer, as are “stressed,” “burned out,” “clueless,” and “exhausted.” Not much excitement or delight there. Social media treatment of parenting is, as is so much else on its palette, overwhelmingly dark, anxiety-ridden, and worrisome. Why would anyone put themselves through all that? Birth rates are falling.

One of the Greatest Journeys We Undertake

Avoid that rabbit hole! Instead, focus your energy on what makes raising a child one of the greatest journeys we ever undertake:

  • Children provide the chance to feel, and give, that rarest form of love: unconditional.
  • Children are the only hope many of us will ever have to learn how to live in the moment.
  • We come to understand how little we understand about how the world works when we must explain it to our children. Their questions—especially the hard ones—provide an opportunity to up our game.
  • Children are the world’s finest stand-up comics.
  • Children remind us of the power and beauty of big emotions, most of which we have diminished courage to both experience and express.
  • No one will ever believe in us more or hold us in such high regard as our young children.
  • Parenthood gives us the chance to provide a safety that we may have never quite felt ourselves.

Big bang for the buck and return on investment for learning to manage all those “undesirable behaviors.”

You May Also Like

+ There are no comments

Add yours