As parents recognize stages for what they are, children will abandon them more quickly and agreeably. Here’s a look into what you can do to make it a pleasant process.
Play it Down: Don’t Reinforce the Big Deal
Tears of frustration and despair would run down my younger sister’s face when my mom would do her hair in elementary school. The tears were not because she did not like her hair done; in fact, quite the opposite was true. She would cry because she demanded the perfect hairdo. She would refuse to go to her first-grade class unless her hair was impeccably smooth, with every hair in flawless contour. My mother spent hours redoing ponytails to make her happy. When the siblings would say anything, my mom would say, “She’ll grow out of it. It’s just a stage.” She did grow out of it and is now so pretty she could do her hair with an eggbeater and still look great.
When I was four years old I had a terrible habit of licking my little lips until they were raw. My mom would apply layers and layers of lip balm and remind me not to lick them. However, I continued to lick them the entire year. But of course, “It was just a stage.
Give Kids Time to Grow Up
We often think our children’s behavior is incorrigible, but the phrase “It’s just a stage” helps us remember that some behaviors are not permanent.
My second son, like most other two-year-olds, is a triumphant tantrum thrower. He will get upset, stop what he is doing, and begin to howl. Then his chubby little legs will carry him forward a few steps, and he’ll throw himself mercilessly on the ground, always a martyr for his cause.
The latest tantrum occurred when we were attending regional conference in the Marriott Center at BYU, where Elder M. Russell Ballard was speaking. My son started bawling so my husband quickly stood to take him out and end the scene. But my son had a sandwich bag full of cereal, which he began to jerk back and forth. The cereal in the bag sprayed four rows in front of us and four rows behind us. Naturally I was embarrassed and started to laugh nervously. The woman in front of me, who had five children of her own, said, “Write this down in your journal. You’ll look back on it later and laugh.” After the meeting, while I was cleaning up the sugarcoated projectiles, the woman behind me, mother of one, said, “I’m sure glad he’s your child and not mine!” I thought but did not say, “So am I.” I know it’s just a stage.
One of our children was a biter when he was young, and a few of his cousins and friends returned to their homes with teeth marks. Recently a two-year-old visiting our home bit my daughter. His mother felt terrible, but I sympathized completely—after comforting my daughter, of course. My son patted the two-year-old visitor, saying, “It’s okay. When I was two, I used to bite. You’ll grow out of it.” In a sense he was saying, “It’s just a stage.
Treat Your Children Like the People You Want Them to Become
When I was young, my mother always whispered sweet things into my ear at bedtime. She would always tell me what a special part of the family I was. This helped me feel confident and loved.
Your children will likely become whatever you tell them they will. I know a mother who is constantly telling her children they are brats, spoiled, rotten, and terrible. It’s true, sometimes they are, but her labels only make the problem worse. Once I was talking to one of her little boys, who said, “My mommy is mean. She thinks I’m terrible.” How sad! Another example is a friend’s daughter who has been labeled as having “an attitude problem.” The parents reinforce her attitude by constantly reminding her of it. This principle is true: Your children will become what you tell them they will, whether for good or for bad. When someone in our family speaks unkindly about another person or themselves, I have them say ten nice things to make up for it.
I listened to a motivational tape by Diane Bills, who tells about being an awkward teenager. Now she can now look back at her pictures and laugh. However, whenever the other kids were being mean to her, she would come inside the house for validation, comfort, and love. Her mother would always tell her how beautiful she was, saying she was prettier than one of the best-looking girls in the school. Perhaps the mother was a little biased, but Diane believed her mother, and she did become a beautiful woman. We can make our homes a safe haven for our children.
A friend reminded me that we should tell our kids they are smart. Every time my daughter is told she is pretty, I say, “And she’s smart, too!” I also ask her things like, “How did you know that?” The answer is always, “Because I’m smart!” Recently my husband told her how beautiful she is. She countered, “Yes, Daddy, but I’m smart, too!”
So whatever the stage might be, remember that it will pass as children are given the time they need to grow up and as they are treated like the people they have the potential to become. Besides, without the infamous stages kids go through, we might not have as interesting stories to tell their future spouses.