Our third son is a charmer and he knows it. Chubby little cheeks, big brown eyes and a killer smile. One pouty look and anyone’s heart would melt.
Problem is, he turns on a dime when he doesn’t get his way. My husband referred to him once as a mini-dictator and at times, this is a very fitting description. And it’s totally, 100 percent our fault.
When our second was born, our first was only two years old, so we often felt like we had two babies. Our third son came along when the other two were seven and four, so the new guy was truly the only baby in the family. Our older boys fully understood what was going on and wanted to be immersed in his care, contentment and entertainment.
Peace was fairly easy to uphold while he was in that “blob baby” phase where he couldn’t really do anything and didn’t need much other than to sleep, eat and be cuddled. Enter the toddler years and suddenly things became more challenging. Little toddler humans have big demands and bigger voices such that the path of least resistance is often to just give them their way. And that we did. An awful lot.
We even encouraged our older kids to cater to him, and they did so fairly willingly to keep the peace. They let him play with the toys he wanted, shared their treats with him when he’d devoured his own portion, and let him sit next to me or hold his dad’s hand if that’s what he desired, even if it was an inconvenience to them.
As he got older and emerged past the toddler stage, the pattern continued. It was just what we had always done. And because he was so used to always getting his way, the eruptions that ensued when he didn’t get his way just didn’t seem worth it.
Fast-forward a few years. It’s a random night and we are sitting down for dinner as a family—but there are only four of us at the table. The “baby” (who is now kindergarten-age) has always been a picky eater and has never been great at staying put at the table, so he often feels completely free to just do his own thing during meal time. For some reason, on this night, it was suddenly very apparent that his behaviour and our enabling of it was having an impact on our family unit. Our older two were getting frustrated that their littlest brother was held to a different standard. They started calling us on it and we had little defence.
That is sometimes all it takes—looking at a moment in time and wondering, How did we get here?
It was time for some changes, so we instituted a five-point plan:
- Be more deliberate with lessons about sharing and compromise.
- Don’t always give the baby first choice.
- Suffer through the tantrums, knowing they’ll pass.
- Hold everyone to the same standard and remind everyone of that standard often.
- Be consistent.
Easy peasy, right? Ha. It’s been a challenge. Undoing bad habits is really hard. We’re making a bit of progress, though. If nothing else, our older boys really appreciate our efforts. Another win: Now when their little brother yells “THIRSTY!!!” at the top of his lungs, nobody budges. (I can’t believe that was ever a thing.)
I’ve also realized that we really weren’t doing the little guy any favours. He didn’t learn to share or compromise at an early age like his siblings did, nor did he learn how to be sensitive to the needs of others.
Hindsight is 20/20 and, as parents, we often make decisions in the moment that make the most sense. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. On the flip side, our littlest guy is incredibly playful and funny and creative and boisterous so I wouldn’t undo anything at the risk of changing the awesome things about him. That said, we now have a clearer path forward.
I’m sitting at my desk writing this article when I hear “Mommy! MOMMY!” from you-know-who. I brace myself slightly for the demand that will inevitably come.
“Yes?” I reply, through gritted teeth.
“I love you!” he yells in the most adorable, sing-songy voice. Just for no reason. I sigh. We must be doing at least a few things right.
This article was originally published online in April 2020.
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.