It may be a stage, but that doesn’t mean it will pass. Even if it does pass, it’s important to consider the “when.” Will it pass on its own, with the passing of time? Or will it need some help from you to pass?
Childhood is marked by comings and goings of all sorts. Stages and phases of language, thinking, physical skills, hormones—all move in a somewhat predictable pattern. What about behavior? Does it ow upward and onward—from the immature to the mature, from the impulsive to the deliberate, from self-concern to concern for others?
Not surprisingly, misbehavior is also lumped into the stage concept, with some legitimacy. Particular ages are identified with the appearance of particular trouble spots. Two-year-olds can display newfound opposition. Six-year-olds can mutilate the truth once they realize that parents don’t have eyes everywhere. Thirteen-year-olds can conclude that a parent knows little of life after forty years.
Parents confess, “He’s never done anything like this before.”
I ask, “How old is he?”
“Has he ever been nine before?” Meaning, new forms of misconduct show up with each age. As a rule, kids get smarter; and with smarter can come quicker and slicker.
The question is not: Do some behaviors follow age? They do. The more relevant question is: Will they pass? That all depends, mostly upon a key person—a parent. How a parent responds to the behavior in the main answers, “Will it pass?” If she believes it’s natural to the age and takes a passive watch-and-wait posture, the “stage” may not pass. It may become a style. If she disciplines the stage, it should fade, sooner or later.
Unfortunately, a mother or father may tolerate tantrums from a three-year-old or disrespect from a teen because they’ve been reassured it’s age-typical. It may be age-typical, but it’s not age-good.
While the form of the unruliness may shift with time, the impulses driving it may not. A three-year-old’s tantrum is pretty amorphous—lots of body torquing, limb opping, leaking from facial ori ces. A nine-year-old’s is more targeted—nasty words, selective aggression, repeated arguments. A fourteen-year-old’s can blend both ages and then some.
The eruption itself has morphed in shape, gone through stages, if you will. The underlying cause—uncontrolled emotions when thwarted—has not.
Whether a misbehavior is part of a stage or not is, for the most part, irrelevant to your parenting. The misbehavior is present. And whether it is present due to age or multiple other reasons, it still has to be addressed.
The good news: You probably did little to evoke this stage. It came in its time.
The bad news: You may have to do lots to discipline it. Otherwise, a stage can become a habit can become a pattern can become a personality.
Timely discipline can keep time-specific phases short.
Excerpted from Advice Worth Ignoring: How Tuning Out the Experts Can Make You a Better Parent, by Dr. Ray Guarendi.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, prolific author and speaker, and nationally syndicated radio host. His radio show, The Doctor Is In, can be heard weekdays on EWTN, Ave Maria Radio, and Sirius XM. His many books include Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime, You’re a Better Parent Than You Think, and Winning the Discipline Debates. He and his wife are the parents of ten children.