But They KNOW Better, Right?

(This Hey! That Reminds Me! edition was inspired by Elastamom’s post Holland Sucks Sometimes)

In college, taking classes on child development – if my professors were talking about little knee grabbers (anyone under the age of 10)?  I tuned out. I was never going to teach the itty bitties. Ever.

In my Adolescent Psych classes I was mesmerized by theory on the development of the brain and how certain areas were still not developed in a teen. The areas that control perceptions of permanence and danger.

Why I couldn’t understand that this would apply to my own children? At every stage of development? I don’t know. Major disconnect.

I breezed through parenting with my daughter. She was easy. Obedient. (Most of the time.) An angel. (Much of the time.)

Then I had boys.

Tiffany, at Elastamom, was sharing some struggles with her daughter. The phrase that struck me was, “She KNOWS better.” How many times have I repeated that phrase in my brain? Countless times. Biting my tongue, so as not to let it escape.

And then? An epiphany.

I read an article in a parenting magazine about impulse control in toddlers. Wait. Scratch that. It was about the LACK of impulse control in toddlers. How their tiny little brains simply could not resist temptation. The logical part of me nodded in agreement. The emotional side of me thought, “But they KNOW better.”

How many times had I asked the boys not to put their hands on the television screen? How many times did we warn them about climbing the furniture? How many times did we say: “Sit on your bottom,” “Don’t run in the house,” “Chairs are for sitting” ?

One afternoon, folding laundry on our breakfast room table, I had a clear view to the family room. My toddler son was watching TV and playing with his cars. His favorite character, Ernie from Sesame Street, was on. Showing his favorite toy, Rubber Ducky. He was talking about how much he loved his toy, how much he loved its squeak, the way it fit in his hand.

My son wanted to touch Rubber Ducky. You could see it in his eyes. He walked over to the television and started to reach out for Rubber Ducky. He saw his right hand reaching for the television screen. He took his left hand and grabbed his right wrist. I could see the tortured look of frustration in his eyes. His left hand trying in a futile attempt to pull back his right hand. And then, his shoulders slumped. Resignation. He let go. And allowed his hand to touch the television screen in an attempt to touch Rubber Ducky.

Then, he remembered I was close by. He looked at me with sad eyes.

He knew better. But he couldn’t help himself. That sweet little part of his brain wasn’t fully developed yet. One part understood the 100 times we had asked him not to touch the television screen. The other part simply wanted to touch Rubber Ducky.

I scooped him up in my arms and hugged him close. I whispered, “Sometimes it’s hard.” I felt his shoulders slump again, this time in relief.

Tiffany is dealing with something much bigger. Her child has Cri du Chat syndrome. But her struggle is real for all of us.

Our children know better. Yet they still fail. They still make mistakes. They struggle, just like us.

What is important, what is critical — is how we choose to respond.


Filed under Hey! That Reminds Me!

26 responses to “But They KNOW Better, Right?

  1. Oh wow, that is the best example I have ever heard and I think it relates to all people. We all know what we should and shouldn’t do, but sometimes temptation gets the best of us and we almost can’t help breaking the rules. It must be even harder for these little guys with the undeveloped brain center thing. You are a GREAT mom for understanding this!

  2. I sometimes feel I demand perfection, especially from my older one, when I know so very well that’s an impossible goal. I am certainly not perfect myself; how can I expect anything even close from someone else, especially someone so small with so many things still to experience? I mean, don’t you have to touch the TV screen, to break the rule, at least just once??

  3. This is so true. Think about all we do in a year’s time, as GrownUps, that applies here too. And we really do know better.
    You’re obviously a great mom.

  4. suzicate

    Temptation is hard at any age. When my boys did similar things, I called them Denis the Menace. Did you ever see the movie? One scene he was dying to push the button on the copier at his mom’s office…it was hilarious!

  5. This was a hard lesson for me, as I never had issues with impulse control (In fact one could argue that my problems come from too much impulse control and not enough spontaneity.)

    But watching my boys unable to resist, even when trying, that has taught me to be more understanding. And, interesting enough, more spontaneous.

  6. You hit the nail on the head. How we react to our children’s actions makes all the difference in the world. You’re such a smart mom!

  7. I don’t have children, I have beagles. But after spending 3 weeks teaching Daisy to stifle her enthusiastic bark of joy so that she would fit in with the apartment living lifestyle, I so feel and know what you go through when you watch a happy and inquisitive soul merely testing out the boundaries of life. You want to protect, but you want to see them in their delight as they learn and grow, too. I have learned to lighten up my demands on my dogs and wallow in their joy and delight ~ see it from their eyes, before I gently enforce the rules necessary for safety and comfort. It has helped me to appreciate that I can’t control everybody in my space, every moment, and hopefully, that’ll help if and when I ever do have kids, because honestly, I get a little weirded out by toddlers touching and grabbing at me. So yeah, I need to lighten up!

  8. God, I’m cringing. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve told Miss D., “you know better than that.”

    You’re right. It IS hard. I need to remember this more.

  9. I love that he grabbed his little arm with his other hand. So cute! He was trying….

    BTW, I have an award for you on my blog.

  10. unabridgedgirl

    I like this. I’m not a parent, but I’ve been a nanny and I am an aunt – – and I’ve watched little kids struggle with this, so it’s neat that you brought it up.

  11. This is a great post and so very true. I have to keep reminding myself over and over again that she may know better, but can’t help it anyway. Thanks for reminding me and thanks for the shout out!

  12. A message right on time. I didn’t really want to be reminded of how awfully I handle these issues, but I needed to hear it, especially after this weekend. Regretfully, thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  13. I have always found this fascinating. We know but can not control. I wonder what is the reason for this delay? The fear delay makes TOTAL sense….but the control? Does that control hold for things that are harmful? If a toddler burns his hand on the stove once…..can they control themselves the next time?


  14. Did you know boys don’t develop the risk part of the brain (you know the one that says if you leap off the roof of the house into the pool and miss you’ll get hurt or die) until they’re 25? Doesn’t that scare you? And explain a hell of a lot?

  15. I am still struggling, at age 29, with impulse control. I know not to have that extra glass of wine but I do it anyway. I know I need to get more sleep but the book I am reading is just too good.

    Are we all doomed?

  16. Great post – it was great to read it – I just blogged a few days ago about how rejected I felt by my toddler! lol – I know they all go through phases and are just trying to figure out the world and people around them. It’s actually quite an honor to get to be part of that. 🙂

  17. Oh! That moment of relief for your son when you told him, “Sometimes it’s hard.” So sweet.

    I had a hard time when I was teaching middle schoolers precisely because of that “but they KNOW better” impulse I had. It was especially hard because my students looked physically much older (thank you, puberty) than many of them were in terms of emotional maturity!

  18. Thank you for posting this, I needed a reminder that sometimes they can’t help themselves. Sometimes I can’t help myself.

  19. You are all so wonderful! Thank you for “getting it” that we ALL struggle with impulse. That patience with our kids is necessary. Forgiveness for ourselves is essential. And another thank you to Elastamom – you really had me thinking after your post! *I* needed the reminder! xoxo

  20. This post is wonderful. Because it smacks both of real life, of struggle, and of wisdom. They don’t necessarily know better (even if we think they do), but we do. Particularly if we talk to each other and share our stories. Thanks, Jane.

  21. Great reminder! Patience is one of those lifetime lessons, for me AND for them….

  22. How insightful, poignant and fun. I love the scene where he is holding his arm back. I would have loved to have seen that. As one with a toddler in the house again, I can totally relate to this today. Watching her “process” at 19 months is amazing. She definitely knows certain things are off limits and usually does fine…unless she is tired. She then turns into Destruction, Inc. and nothing is sacred! Temptation is hard at every age. And so is patience. Your response to him is perfect. Yes, sometimes it IS hard.

  23. Impulse control … they know better …

    You know, that sounds a lot like my cats. They’ll even give me a guilty look but it doesn’t stop them from doing what they want. I swear sometimes they deliberately thwart my will! 🙂

    That was a cute story. He’s lucky to have a mom perceptive enough to recognize a moment like that.

  24. joz1234

    Wow! great post! Faemom’s comment scares the hell out of me though!

    What I love is when you finally do see that they are getting it, and that they “know better.” I see glimpses of it in my oldest and in my toddler. There is nothing better than to hear my 3 year old lecture my 5 year old by saying, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.” I smile on the inside each time I hear that. It shows me that he is starting to use good judgement even at 3. It’s totally possible, and they Do Know better. 🙂

    Great post!
    I have left an award for you on my blog. It will post tomorrow morning.

  25. This is so insightful, so true. My son is back into a throwing phase/declaration of independence right now, and it’s hard to know how much he can understand and how much he can control. It must be hard for a two-year-old: He can throw the ball, but not the big plastic dinosaur? He gets it, but it takes a few cycles. Then later he says to me with an almost sad seriousness and a slow shake of the head, “I throw? Noo.”

  26. This is a wonderful post, a great reminder. I need to try and remember what you said esp. since I have a very short fuse…

    “What is important, what is critical — is how we choose to respond.”

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