Innate human behaviour – or what I have learned from my kids
When you are an adult, you can find all sorts of theories to explain the way the world is, the way the world could be or the way the world should be. However, it is remarkable how much of human nature is innate and quite easily observable as humans grow up. Here are a few things I have learned, so far, from my kids (1 and 3 years old now). Caveat : due their young age, I reserve the right to change my findings!
The concept of private property is very strong. Even at 1 year old a child has internalized the notion of mine and yours and they defend their property (toy, blanket, bottle,…) with as much viciousness and courage as a high paid lawyer. They do learn to share, but let us just say it is not nearly as natural as the concept of possession. Perhaps this shows the limits of communism and the need for all societies to have a certain degree of private property to ensure we do not act against the basic nature of human beings.
The ability to manipulate and exert influence starts very young. The main strategy I have observed so far is to simply wear down the parents with repeated demands or a steadfast refusal to cooperate. So far, in most cases, we have persevered through these battles, but if you are already tired the child can easily gain the upper hand – beware! The same rules are used with adults. Napoleon Bonaparte was famous for making negotiations long late into the night in an effort to tire out his opponents. I heard a rumour that the Americans got the Canadian delegation drunk when negotiating the Quebec – Maine border and consequently gained hundreds of kilometres of land. Relentless pressure works for both young and old.
The desire to have others do work for you is present from the start. This somewhat connects to number two, but our three year old is adept at asking us to do things he could very well do himself – wipe his nose, get a toy,… etc. More and more we are insisting that he do any task that he is physically capable of doing and in general it works. However, I must admit that to expedite an activity – meals, leaving the daycare,… I will cave in and do things for him. In general, for both young and old it is critical that you let people do any task they are capable of doing themselves. It helps build confidence, autonomy and a sense of independence. I was once making salad with my 95 year old grandmother and I ensured she contributed as much as she could! She lived to 102, just saying!
When the kids are upset/crying, it is usually because they are uncomfortable, sick, hungry or tired. The discomfort can be physical or mental. While you can’t magically heal a sick kid, you can feed and encourage a kid – a little snack will do wonders. Holding them upside down by their feet also will help get them out of a meltdown, which is very much an out-of-body experience.
Sleep, I am convinced, is the greatest cure of all. We have been “lucky” to have great sleepers, but I am also fairly convinced that there are tactics to improve sleep. A quiet, dark, cool room helps a lot. A bottle of milk is critical and in my humble opinion, society is pushing breastfeeding on women way, way too aggressively with detrimental impacts to the mothers and children. As a father, it is a pleasure to put my kids to sleep and that is possible because they take the bottle. My wife breastfeed until six months, but we introduce the bottle and formula early on (a few weeks old) and have kept it going since. It gave her the freedom to leave the kids, detached the kids a bit from mom and allowed them more flexibility in their schedules. We never stuck to sleep schedules and I am not convinced they really work. Kids should sleep when they are tired and play when they have energy.
We have never used white noise, but we have made an effort to ensure there is background noise when the kids sleep to ensure they do not become accustomed to silence and consequently wake up with the slightest noise. Shhh, shhh, one last secret – we put our kids to sleep on their stomach right at a young age. They sleep – waaaaayyyyy better. Sudden infant death syndrome is, as far as science can tell, linked to cigarettes and alcohol in the house, not sleeping on your stomach. Oh yes, one more thing, a friend of mine recommended giving the older kid mild doses of Melatonin to help him fall asleep (about 1 mg). It works. Studies out there have not seen any negative impacts.
One more tip, do NOT do co-sleeping with your kids. Mom’s who breastfeed a lot will tend to do this more as it facilitates feeding, but you then enter a vicious cycle where the kid will not only require to sleep with you, but will wake mom up for feedings all the time. Do not do it. We kept our kids in a separate bassinet in our room for the first three months and then transferred them to their own rooms and cribs with a firm mattress and clear instructions to not wake us up – it has worked fairly well I must admit.
The solution to many problems in life is practice. Michael Jordan once explained that he repeatedly practised every conceivable play and setup so that during game time, he was ready for anything. With kids, repetition is critical. From a young age I made a point of pouring water over their head and eyes during bath-time so that they got used to it. They now have no problem washing their hair and having their heads soaked. Teaching them to swim is the same – repeat, repeat, repeat. We bicycle to daycare every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet, so they are used to that and actually relish the adventure (it is safe, don’t worry, Montreal has great bicycle paths). We also make a point of having our kids stay at our grandparents often (or as often as they will take them) to build their confidence in sleeping in other places and dealing without us. We just need to find some friends now who are willing to take them for a sleep-over! In short, I believe firmly that doing something repetitively (like writing) is the best path to building confidence – this is even more true with young children.
In short, my general parenting philosophy is mostly based on the work of Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer. If you watched his show where he takes trouble-making dogs and tries to correct your behaviour, you will have noticed that the conclusion to each show is nearly always the same: the owners have to change their behaviour. Dogs are simpler animals the people and are even more influence by their owners than children are by their parents, but the same fundamentals hold true. It is the parents who control the situation and the actions parents take or do not take are most of the reason kids behave in a certain way.
In the equine world, Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, has demonstrated the same thing over and over again. A horse with bad habits is usually an owner with bad habits. Historically, horses were beat into submission (and may still are), but there are cooperative and intelligent ways to change a horse’s behaviour. I hope my tips do not come across the wrong way. Each parent, family and child have different realities an constraints. Gabor Mate is an excellent resource on understanding the human mind and its actual needs. My wife and I have been blessed with two health children, flexible jobs that allow for work at home, low cost day care and healthy grandparents who can help with the kids. Many people are not nearly as fortunate.
I can only share what I have learned so far and it will likely change in the future, but I want to point out that having children is awesome. More people should do it (see my post on population imposition). Too much of modern day society focuses on the negatives of having kids, when in reality, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. My last point in favour of having kids is that to live the full human experience, the ups and downs, to see your own reflection in your children’s eyes, you must have (or adopt) and raise children. To opt for childlessness, when you have the health and finances to have children, is to miss out on the most fundamental part of life : to raise the next generation.Published on December 11, 2022