I have a three-year old son and sometimes he has tantrums. Sometimes he doesn’t want to share with other children. Sometimes he melts down when you tell him it’s time to stop playing or time to give someone else a turn. Sometimes he screams and yells when he doesn’t want to leave the playground or the toy store. We negotiate when it’s time to get dressed. We negotiate when when it’s time to turn the TV off. We negotiate how many pieces of broccoli he has to eat at dinner time. Life these days is just your good old-fashioned power struggle.
My son is also an angel when mommy isn’t around–a model citizen–the perfect example of sweet and helpful–a good listener–a good sharer–one who follows directions. I swear his teachers think I’m lying when I say he tried to hit a little girl at a birthday party last weekend or threw every fake piece of food from his fake kitchen onto the floor this morning before school. Or how about the time he drew all over the family room walls with crayons? They say, “Not Mason,” when I tell them about the constant battle that is getting him to clean up his toys. At school, he is the best helper–the first one to stop what he’s doing to put toys away.
So what am I doing wrong? Does any of this sound familiar to you? If you have a threenager or even a terrible two-year old, I’m sure it does. Anytime I talk about these things with mom friends, they all tell me it’s completely normal. Their kids act or used to act the same way at that age–behaving well for others, not as much for them. Getting pissed off when they don’t feel like sharing. Overusing the word words: “No!” and “Not fair!” and “It’s mine!” Laying on the floor face down, kicking their legs because you asked them to come to the table for dinner and they want to keep playing. So I don’t really understand when other moms like to say, “Well he’s an only child.” WTF does that mean? WTF does that have to do with anything?
Are you saying that my child acts out in those ways simply because he’s an only child? That he is selfish and bratty and spoiled? I won’t argue with the spoiled part. He is the first and only grandchild on both sides. This means he has better clothes than his mommy and more toys than he could possibly know what to do with. It also means he is often the focus of everyone’s attention at family gatherings because there isn’t anyone else to share the focus with yet. So what? It’s not his fault. It’s not my fault because I chose not to have another baby.
He is also funny and kind, curious and compassionate, silly and very chatty. He participates and always wants to be involved in what you’re doing. And do you know what else? He loves to help in the kitchen and is obsessed with cleaning supplies. He now makes his own pretend car wash at home by lining up all his planes, trains, and automobiles and wiping them down with damp paper towels. In fact, sometimes it’s a power struggle because he wants to be the one doing the vacuuming. He is always asking to help. That doesn’t sound very “only child-like” to me!
So when my son is somewhere playing and decides in that moment he doesn’t feel like sharing the toy he is playing with but also wants the toy your child has, why can’t he just be acting like a normal three-year old? Why do you feel the need to say, “Well he’s an only child”? He might be acting like an asshole right now, but mommy’s decision not to have any more children doesn’t really factor in here. And I’m pretty sure I just saw your son push another girl in the sandbox and he has two siblings.
Mason goes to school everyday to a class of 15 other children. He goes to gym class on Tuesdays, swim lessons on Wednesdays, and soccer on Saturdays. He has playdates with our friends’ kids. He might not be around other children all the time at home, but he is still exposed to lots of other kids. He shares and talks and holds hands and helps and cleans up. And sometimes he refuses to share, doesn’t want to talk to anyone and refuses to pick up toys–just like your kid does. Yeah, your kid who has one or two, even three other siblings.
That’s right. Your kid is around the same age as my kid. He has siblings. Wasn’t that him just acting like an asshole over there? You know, the same way Mason did a few minutes ago. So I’ll ask again. Why is being an only child relevant here? Your one of three children just ripped a toy out of my kid’s hand. Oh and now he is wailing and kicking the floor because he doesn’t want any one else to use his firetruck even though he wasn’t playing with it at the moment.
So how about we leave the only child judgements out of it. Three-year olds can be tough no matter how many brothers and sisters they have. They have multiple personalities and sometimes you don’t know which one you will get. Shouldn’t we just embrace where they are at and teach them what’s important regardless of how many people they share their home with?