At times you will be sorely tempted. There’s the child who acts outrageously at a birthday party. He grabs and pushes and won’t sit still. When his mom reprimands him he throws a mega-tantrum. Tsk-tsk, you think, beaming at your own child, so daintily licking the chocolate frosting off of her fork. But you can’t really make assumptions about how wise and loving another child’s parents are based on that child’s behavior. Kids get to be who they are- and act the way they act on any given day-via a complex equation that combines their parent’s guidance with a host of other variables including what (if anything) they ate for breakfast that morning , how long they slept last night, the condition of their gums and, most of all, their fundamental temperament. Some little kids are wild, some restrained, some are shy, some more daring. Research shows that these differences often come down to brain chemistry rather than their parents’ skills at teaching them manners and setting limits. A parent’s job is to accept a child’s fundamental personality in ways that keep the child safe and teach him to value himself and others.
I was once at a pizza place when two four-year-olds discovered the restaurant’s light switch and began to flick it on and off. Both of them were there with their fathers, who immediately got up and hauled the rascals back to their table with a stern warning to leave the light switch alone or risk heading home without pizza. One boy slumped in his chair at the reprimand, but the other jumped up and made another quick dash for the light switch. The repeat offender soon found himself being carried out of the restaurant by his father. Why did one child exhibit self-control while the other one did not? I have no idea—but I can’t point a finger at his Dad, who responded responsibly to his son’s behavior. Some kids just have to learn the hard way—and that makes life tougher for their parents, too.