Dear Lady in the grocery store whose kid was having a total meltdown in the cart,
Look, every parent has to go through that. You head into the store to grocery shop, stick the kid in the seat of the cart, and all the sudden the earth is melting and OH HELL NO he’s not going to put up with that, so the crying starts.
He’s not even trying to get you to put things into the cart he wants you to get. He just doesn’t like the way the world is tilted on its axis today, and he’s going to let everyone in the store know about it. It’s not a temper tantrum and there’s nothing wrong; he’s just having a moment the only way his 20 month old brain can.
No one was glaring at you; I’m sure you felt the sting of a thousand dagger-like stares slam into you, but truly, no one really cared. He was loud, but kids are loud. It wasn’t a big deal. It especially wasn’t a big deal to me until I heard you lean over to say to him, “You are a bad boy. A BAD boy.”
I sighed, sad for him. And then a few minutes later when I heard it again, telling him he was such a bad boy, my heart broke for him.
Here’s the thing. He’s not a bad boy. He’s a toddler with no way to express himself when something is bothering him, other than to cry. He doesn’t have the words. He doesn’t have the cognitive ability to realize that the thing that is bothering him will be over with soon, and things will get better. There is nothing in his realm of existence to tell him that crying because something is just a little off is anything more than getting you to listen.
He’s not bad.
He’s a little boy.
But I guarantee you, if you keep telling him that he’s a bad boy, if that’s your go-to response when he acts in ways you wish he didn’t, at some point he’s going to believe that about himself. Kids will tuck the things said to them about themselves into a deep, dark place in their souls, and eventually it becomes Identity.
You are the person to whom he looks for not only the pieces to the puzzle that will form the picture of who he will be, but also the way those pieces fit together. Every time you tell him he’s bad becomes another piece to his puzzle. Piece after jagged piece after jagged piece.
How many pieces of that puzzle do you want to be colored with the idea I'm a bad person?
Look, I know you love him. I know you’re frustrated and probably embarrassed because his crying is that loud and that unwarranted, but he’s not going to stop because he doesn’t know what’s wrong. He’s just being an upset little boy, and that’s okay. Even though his cries are that loud, he still hears you…and what would you rather have settle into his brain? You’re a bad boy? Or maybe I know, we’ll be done soon, I’m sorry you’re upset.
It’s not a temper tantrum, He's not throwing things, hitting, kicking, yelling at you, flat-on-his-back-on-the-floor refusing to move; he’s just crying.
Over the next 20 years he will do endless things to upset you; he will engage in behaviors of which you will not approve. He will do things that could be called bad, but there’s a huge difference in doing the things kids do as they grow and learn and make mistakes and actually being bad.
There are no bad boys stuff into toddler sized shoes.
He’s not a bad boy.