Parenting. It’s chess, not checkers.

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[Now, let me start by stating for the record: I am not referring to extreme life situations in this post. Bullying, hazing, physical and mental abuse – let’s take all of those types of issues out of the equation for my purposes here and now. Those are, in my mind, separate issues that deserve a much different approach and level of sensitivity. I’m referring to the day-to-day. The norm. The molehills, not the mountains. ]

Kids will be kids.

I’ve never loved this saying. It sounded a bit flippant and defeatist to me; like kids should be allowed to get away with bad behavior simply because they are young and don’t know much better.

But somewhere along the way I realized: Kids are young. They don’t know much better. They should be allowed to exhibit bad behaviors and make mistakes because that is how they learn. (And, I might add, that is how we learned. This is how we are learning.)

So, yes, kids will be kids. And, contrary to what it may seem, parents are not simply letting them get away with it.

I’ve read so many blog posts and Facebook comments lately that imply if parents just try hard enough, are consistent enough, choose the right approach, they can somehow make their children be “kind,” “polite,” “respectful,” “caring,” “responsible,” and the like. If we just make enough EFFORT, they will stop acting like such … children. (I’ll just assume you see the flaw in this ideology.)

I don’t know about you, but even if it were possible, I don’t think this would be a particularly good idea.

I understand the primal urges of parenthood – the mama bear that involuntarily rears up when her child is attacked with cruel words or actions. I’m guilty of that, and of passing judgment on other parents (especially when shocking examples of kids behaving badly are plastered all over the Internet). When terrible things happen, it’s hard not to wonder how (or if) these children were parented through their young lives.

It’s harder to think that, sometimes, bad things just happen. And even harder to accept that sometimes, “bad” things are maybe supposed to happen. (Especially when those bad things are happening to me.)

On a personal level, even the normal little ups and downs often feel like an intense, enormous roller coaster. It can be heartbreaking and difficult, but my kids are probably going to be made fun of, picked on, ridiculed and excluded. And my kids are probably also going to take part in the same types of activities against another kid. So there’s not much we as parents can do to stop it.

Yes, we can model good behavior. Yes, we can discuss good choices and brainstorm strategies. We can give consequences and take away privileges. We can be consistent and calm, warm yet firm. We can discipline and parent to the best of our ability. We can do everything right. We can even make progress.

But stop it completely? Nope.

This is how they learn. This is how they grow. This is how they get better. Practice makes perfect, after all.

Kids will be kids. They can’t really be anything else.

See, these kids we are talking about? The ones who are saying mean, hurtful things to friends and lashing out in anger and throwing tantrums in public and talking back to teachers and pushing and hitting and biting and kicking? Well, here’s the thing: They. Are. Children.

As easy as it may feel to place blame, I truly believe all those children who make mistakes and exhibit angry, hurtful behavior – they all have parents who are doing their very best to guide them down a positive path.

I especially believe this because, not only are some of my best friends these parents, I am one, too.

There are very few parents who are blatantly neglectful and uncaring. Yes, there are a-holes out there who are raising their children to be a-holes. But they are the extreme and the unusual, in my opinion. (Unfortunately I’ve found there’s very little we can do about the a-holes in life.)

But 99.9% of the parents I know are working ridiculously hard to raise healthy, responsible, caring people. They are doing it in vastly different ways, and all of them have tremendous successes and bitter defeats (usually daily), but their hearts are all in the same place. And I think they are doing a wonderful job. I fully expect their children to be the kind, compassionate people they were raised to be.

But not for quite some time.

Ever hear that phrase “act like a child”? Well, it has long, unyielding roots. Children are irrational, stubborn, temperamental, explosive and unreasonable. They pout and whine and scream and stomp. (Children are also brilliant, full of wonder, passionate and charming. They love and snuggle and hug and kiss and laugh easily. But that’s a whole other blog post.) This is what they DO and this is how they LEARN. No amount of stellar parenting is going to change that now; but it will be beautifully apparent in years.

All that effort and consistency and role-modeling we put in today is SO important and essential and necessary. We should all definitely keep up the good work! But maybe let’s not get discouraged or pass judgment if we don’t seem to be reaping the benefits any time soon. It’s a long-term strategy, really.

Think chess, not checkers.

Kids will be kids.

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