Photo by HK creative distraction at www.flickr.com

Most of us have the tendency to want to blame someone else when things go wrong. Never is this more true than when the other person is undisciplined, self-centered, irrational, and unreasonable.

Like a child.

It’s so easy to get angry with small children. They expect us to meet their every need (which we often do) only to return the favor with whining, complaining, or a full blown tantrum when things don’t turn out just right. Add to that their special knack for dismantling hours of work in an instant, or destroying things that are important to us, and it’s enough to drive the most saint-like person to the brink.

Maddening as it is, young children really don’t know any better. It’s not their fault.

To be clear, I am not talking about children that are old enough to reason. I’m talking about children ages 3 and younger. Everything is about them, and everything within reach is MINE. Supervision and distraction are the only real methods of “discipline” when dealing with this age group. When we understand what is developmentally appropriate behavior for them, we realize that the “naughty” things babies and toddlers do are usually just the result of something we did or failed to do. It’s our fault. And understanding this can help us to control our own bad behavior when faced with theirs.

To understand what I mean, let’s break this down into two of the most common scenarios.

1) Shopping fiascoes. A trip to a shopping center at nap or lunch time is the prime example. We grownups can slog through our feelings of hunger or fatigue for a few minutes or even hours when we need to get something done, but we can’t expect that from our 2-year-old counterparts. Taking a child of this age on a really long shopping expedition when they are tired and/or hungry is a recipe for disaster. You can pretty much count on them acting like a monster from hunger, fatigue, or both. Crying? Your fault. Begging for snacks? Your fault. Throwing a tantrum because you looked at them wrong when they are exhausted beyond reason? That’s right. Totally your fault.

2) Destruction of personal property. Remember when your extremely busy toddler used your favorite lipstick to create a mural on the living room wall? That’s your fault too. If you want to make sure the contents of your purse/bathroom drawer/kitchen pantry remain untouched by immature hands, it’s your responsibility to either lock it up or put it up. There should be no expectation whatsoever for a child under the age of 3 to have enough consideration or self-control to back away from a counter covered in pretty make up bottles or a table littered with colorful craft supplies. Getting mad at itty bitty children in situations like these isn’t fair because you set them up to fail. It’s your fault.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, etc. In fact, you’ll probably lower your blood pressure a few points by simply allowing yourself to feel those emotions as completely as you want for a few minutes. Go ahead and scream in your pillow, cry in the parked car, or vent to another mother who understands.

But please, don’t take it on those sweet and innocent little people who love you more than anything. If you stop to think about it, placing the blame on them is more irrational than whatever it is they did to make you feel like a crazy person in the first place.

It’s tough, because the sort of treatment we receive at the hands of our babies and toddlers is totally unacceptable in our relationships with other people. (The grownup kind.) Most of us aren’t used to turning the other cheek and essentially saying, “It’s my fault you are acting like this/did this.” It can be quite a shock to the system for a new mother who has spent the last twenty or thirty something years thinking only about her own feelings.

In the case of an immature roommate or egocentric boss, it’s easy to just tolerate them or even write them off. But that’s not the kind of relationship we want with our children. We want to feel more love and patience for them, and we need to for the sake of family harmony as well as our own sanity. That’s why taking the blame for our little ones age appropriate behavior works.

The beauty of shifting the blame is that it allows us to be proactive rather than reactive. Rather than feel and show anger toward our babies and toddlers (making everyone feel awful), we can take control of and responsibility for the situation (after counting to ten or screaming into our pillow), chalk it up to a learning experience, and move on. Sanity and mother-child relationship saved.

So the next time you feel like you’re about to lose it after your toddler removes the contents of the lowest book shelf for the one hundred and fifty seventh time, just move the books to higher ground and tell yourself, “That was my fault!”

QUESTION: What patience testing scenario makes you the craziest? Can you prevent it from happening again in the future?

CHALLENGE: When you feel tempted to get mad at your small child for whatever “naughty” thing they did, ask yourself first if it’s not actually your fault.

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