Q: In your column of last week, you referred to the “hump of toddlerhood.” Can you please explain further?
A: In using the word “hump,” I’m equating chronological toddlerhood – roughly, 18 to 36 months of age – with the idea that there is a point at which one surmounts the most difficult or stressful point of a challenge. Concerning the discipline of a child, toddlerhood is the critical period during which either positive or negative precedents are set by the child’s parents. If the former, they get over the hump; if negative, they all — parents and child — become stuck on the upslope of the hump. In that event, the child’s behavior continues to worsen, the parents become increasingly frustrated, and their responses to the child’s misbehavior become increasingly counterproductive.
Eventually, the child brings toddler behavior with him to school: short attention span, defiance of one form or another, socialization issues, and emotional control deficits. The likelihood is nearly 100 percent that he is quickly identified as having “special needs.” That leads to testing, one or more diagnoses, and more often than not, psychiatric medication.
The diagnosing professional tells the parents that their child suffers from a brain-based problem, perhaps involving a so-called “biochemical imbalance” (claims made without a physical examination, mind you), thus absolving them of any responsibility for the child’s problems. If they accept this unverifiable, non-scientific narrative, they become enablers and a solution to the child’s problems becomes, over time, more remote and difficult to bring about.
Getting over the hump requires that parents establish the legitimacy of their authority, and unequivocally so, during that critical 18-month period. In that regard, consequences are helpful, but the key is that the parents properly occupy their authority — that they LOOK like authority figures (e.g. give instructions from a standing position as opposed to getting down to the child’s level), SOUND like authority figures (e.g. give instructions without explanation or “okay?”), and FOLLOW THROUGH like authority figures (e.g. calmly and self-confidently).
Getting over the hump also requires accomplishing certain developmental milestones according to schedule. Toilet training, for example, should be introduced before the second birthday and completed within a month to six weeks. Unfortunately, the current psycho-pediatric narrative has it that waiting until age 3 is okay if that is how long it takes for the child to be “ready.” The fact is, the longer parents wait to toilet train, the more difficult it will be, thus setting the stage for further parent-child struggles. Furthermore, “toileting readiness” is nothing but a myth that greatly assisted in the marketing of disposable diapers.
By age 3, a child should be dressing himself, taking care of his own toilet, eating what is put in front of him at mealtimes, obedient, and tantrum-free. That description defines a happy child who is on the path to a happy childhood, which is every child’s birthright. Pie-in-the-sky? Hardly. That description was the norm 60-plus years ago, which explains why the mental health of kids back then was by some estimates ten times better than it is today.
Thus, my latest slogan for parents of toddlers: Trump the Hump!
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.