Q. My 4-year-old is outrageous. I never saw a child so naughty. He rides his trike full speed around the house, sasses old ladies in the supermarket, teases the puppy and tickles the child next door. As funny as he is, I wonder how long this stage will go on.
A. I can see why you think your child's behaviour is outrageous. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget says a person must be autonomous to develop true morality, and Harvard psychiatrist Erik Erikson says that 4 is the age of autonomy, but you can't let your child do whatever he wants.
It's fine for a 4-year-old to make as many decisions as possible, but it is your job, not his, to draw the lines that he must test. It all comes down to this: You have rights too, and the rights of the parents almost always supersede the rights of a child.
Unless you like broken ashtrays, scarred doorways and irritated visitors, a child does not ride a tricycle in the house, period. And you surely don't let him tease children, old people, puppies and for your own survival, sitters. It isn't civilized.
Every child has the right to make a damn fool of himself, but not of his mother-and he seldom does it without her permission. Although you may think you are being stern, the child who is corrected with cross words and smiling eyes gets only a confused sense of approval. People talked with their bodies for eons before words were invented and now when two ideas are spoken at once, the body shouts while the words only whisper.
Q. Every time I feed our 3-month-old baby my 2-year-old cries and carries on as if he were abandoned. Or he falls down or spills his juice. I've heard of sibling rivalry, but this is getting impossible.
a. You can look the whole world over, love and you won't find any fear more terrifying than displacement. It is a fear we carry all our lives, as we walk into a new school, make room for another person in the office, contemplate a divorce or more from one house to another.
Suddenly we aren't sure if we still fit.
Everyone-but especially a child-needs to know where he stands, but a baby reaching that cute, cooing stage of three months gets a new infusion of attention and no one remembers to give some extra attention to the older child. That's when a big brother or sister feels as if he is one step away from the edge of the planet.
Even if your 2-year-old doesn't have a legitimate problem, any child who hurts has legitimate need for comfort.
The time to give this attention is not, of course, when he is demanding it-bad behaviour is not rewarded-but when he is good. Special hugs, a new paperback book, a picture-postcard in the mail, a sitter for the baby while the two of you go to the ice-cream parlor. This is how a child learns that every person has his own special place in the sun.