Despite wanting to retreat into the soft, cushioned and above all sound proof room I had created in my mind, I learnt that I had to listen to the noises emanating from Small. If I could work out what they meant I had a reasonable chance of making them stop. Listening to Small ultimately meant more quiet time for me. Listening was important.
The converse was not true. Small had very little interest in listening to me. I knew this because Small never did anything I asked him to. He would not respond to my commands. I felt that this was because he was being wilful; deliberately being naughty just to goad me. This feeling was much more acutely in a public arena such as a shopping mall. Worse was somewhere like a doctor’s waiting room. At least in the shopping mall everyone was moving. Those judging stares were fleeting. There was no time for them to build into tutting and pointed coughing. But Small was not being wilful, he was just not interested in 99% of what I had to say. This was because it didn’t correlate with what he wanted to do (see The Centre of the Universe).
Before I worked this out I thought that, perhaps, Small was being naughty. Certainly the demon on my shoulder was whispering that all the people staring at me thought he was. Worse, they also thought that it was my doing because I so obviously did not know how to raise a Small. This resulted in me digging in my heels and becoming more forceful to show him who was boss. Sadly, it turned out to be him.
The concept I initially failed to grasp was that Small was not being naughty. Naughty is a concept invented by adults and it was not within his understanding. As adults most of us have a very good understanding or what is right and what is wrong. True there are all kinds of shades of grey (fifty, apparently) where the two abut but we can see there is a divide. We do not, however, come pre-programmed with this discernment: it is learnt behaviour, drummed into us since we were Smalls ourselves, battling with our own parent, reinforced through schooling and polished by societal pressures.
If Small had no understanding of right and wrong he could not consciously have been doing wrong. He was just doing. I might have viewed what he was doing as wrong but he did not. Therefore he was mightily confused by my rebuff and chose to ignore it.
So, how long would it be until Small knew right from wrong? Everybody learns things that they can see a benefit from very quickly. Lessons that have onerous results are hard to learn and we regress. Small learnt where the cookie jar was swiftly and instantly mastered how to open it. Learning not to throw his bowl of food on the floor was hard because it was a fun thing to do, so why did he have to stop. Why was it wrong? From his perspective there was no downside to it because he was living in the moment and did not understand the concepts of clean or tidy. He had a lot of background things to learn before he had a framework on which to hang right or wrong.
So, at what age could I expect Small to be able to make a judgment call on good or bad? In English Criminal Law a child under the age of 10 cannot be tried for a crime. This is because he is deemed not to have sufficient understanding of right and wrong. If the laws that ultimately define right and wrong for us tell us that it can only be properly understood when we are 10 years old perhaps I shouldn’t have been judging Small as naughty in such a knee jerk way. Sure, I could start him on the learning process but I shouldn’t start thinking he was doing these things deliberately to annoy me or humiliate me in public. He was not. He would start that when he was 10.
Incidentally, you may feel that the UK has set the age of criminal responsibility too high. Surely everyone knows right from wrong at a much younger age. Well, the UK has the lowest age in the European Union, for instance France sets the age at 13, Italy at 14, Denmark at 15 and Spain at 16. In the US the situation is more complex with each state setting its own age for state crimes, ranging between 6 and 12, whilst the age set for federal crimes is 11.
Not so much a parenting guide full of advice, more the reality of parenting kids and being a house husband and father, written by a stay at home dad to three children.
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