Monday, July 8, 2013

Little kids and human nature

Gratuitous pic of the boy and his little bro a long time ago

Are little humans mean by nature, meant to  be "civilized"? Is kindness not natural? This weekend we were at a relative's birthday party, and there were 3 kids, a three-year old and two toddlers of 1 year and a half. Two of the kids, a 3-year old and one of the younger ones were playing very nicely, particularly one who's a born dancer and had already learnt a step or two. But the third kid kept bringing the others to the edge constantly.

Exhibit A: He "stole"/took a muffin from one of the other kids, knowing it was not his, subsequently coming outside to proudly show his spoils of war, with the other kid angrily coming behind. The thing is he had already been given a muffin, which he rejected, and his mom clarified that this kid does not like or eat cake.

Exhibit B: The same kid kept "stealing"/taking toys from the other kids. There were many toys, but he made a point of taking the ones they were busy with, from their hands. At some point they were all playing at a sandbox, and one of the kids had two shovels in his hands. So an adult intervened to tell them to share and gave a shovel to problematic little kid. At which point the little brat boy threw it away with emphasis. It seemed he did not even want it, but he got pleasure from making the other kids upset.

Exhibit C: There was a little plastic slide, and the kids were all harmoniously playing, waiting for their turn. This kid kept pushing the other kids aside, kind of violently, would not wait for his turn and was just there being annoying.

How does this happen? I know parents have the best of intentions. And it certainly did seem this kid enjoyed trouble-making. It's not like he was getting extra attention for it, he was mostly quiet, not yelling or crying but calmly tormenting the others for his own fun. Any child psychologists out there? Is it that this kid lacks attention at home and he has to call for it by his own peculiar means? I found it weird that the he did not seem to want the stuff he kept taking away from the others, because when he had it, he did not bother with it. It almost seemed like he enjoyed the  angry reactions from the other kids which is just sad....


  1. I warn you against judging, dear Amanda. Parenting is not easy at all, and the ages of the children you mention are particularly difficult ones. Some children understand rules and comply with them easily, and some others (some times even siblings) need more work. That doesn't make the child evil or a brat or even spoiled, especially not at that age.

    1. I did not mean to judge, particularly not the parents, which is why I wrote: "I know parents have the best of intentions." (As in, I know they are doing the best they can, and I was not trying to blame the parents).

      I probably chose my words wrong, to emphasize what I was trying to say.

      I have no background in psychology / sociology or other social sciences, but I was somehow shocked by what we observed was happening, and so I decided to describe it as, for instance, I would have described the behaviour of a group of birds or cows or (X).

      Interpretations are always very difficult, and subjective, per nature, which is why I used the word "seem" all along.

      But it did make me wonder all kinds of things, maybe more from a philosophical sense... (Is being "nice" something we made up, not something natural? If there was no society, would we be endlessly fighting?) I am not the first to have asked these questions... from Rousseau to "The Lord of the Flies", to anyone trying to describe human nature.

      It just really shocked me to see what was happening.

  2. A child is not a cow or a bird. You described and judged the behaviour of an acquaintance's child in a public post and used the words evil and spoiled tp hypothesize about it.First psychology lesson: It's never the child that is wrong, it's the behaviour. Not labelling the child is rule number one, no excuses. As an adult, and a future parent, always distinguish between the child and the behaviour because not doing so can be really damaging.
    Second: How would you feel if an acquaintance that you meet at a party wrote a blog post that is 75% about your toddler's misbehaviour in her blog?
    If you want to discuss human nature please talk about Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes, not about a specific toddler.

    1. You are right it is perhaps not appropriate to talk about someone's toddler on a blog, however I decided to do it because this behaviour could be the behaviour of any child. There is nothing particular about this specific kid, rather something that I believe it is quite common to see. I really meant no harm, and of course, nothing against the child, really. What I saw just made me reflect and sparked some questions. To avoid further confusion I have changed the title of the post, as I did not mean it to be offensive/damaging, but to emphasize what I was trying to explain.

  3. I'm not exactly sure whats the proven methode behind tiptowing around subjects like these. Kids can be the meanest, I know I was. I tormented my litlle sister. My sisters and I (there is more then one) used to hit each other with the controle remote if you don't want to call it evil that's fine.
    Sometimes behavior isn't explainable, it's not just nurture.

    And well concerning writing about this on a blog. I don't have a problem with it. maybe because I'm not a mom or an aspiring mom or maybe because I don't want to be one ever. But a blog should be owned by the writer not by the opinions of others.
    Of course some lessons can learned from th fierce comments of both Marcela and Amanda. But this blog won't hinder the child's developement, it will not harm the little kid. If we could come up with a solution it might have even helped the todler and the parents.

    1. Yes, it is perhaps better not to mention real situations other than our own; regardless, I think it is a common observation that some kids do not initially like to share and that some kids fight. This made me think that the rules of society (being nice, sharing, etc) are something learnt and made me wonder or want to explain why some behaviours happen, because, even if I too, as a child fought with my siblings, it still shocked me to observe it as an adult on such little kids.
      I guess I should study child development instead of wondering things out loud.

    2. the wondering out loud part is what makes your blog fun to read so please don't stop wondering and asking or dreaming. And for the rules of society I guess some of us need more lessons. Because everytime the child is misbehaving and is corrected the child learns or at least gets an idea of whats expected. So maybe it is just a matter of time and indurance :)

  4. Oh it is great to wonder things out loud Amanda. I have wondered about human "kindness" too, and if it comes naturally or not because we for sure have to learn the rules of the groups we belong to.

    We are animals too, therefore, I do not see any problem whatsoever in comparing us to birds or cats, or whatever comes to your mind! If anything, doesn't it seem at times that other animals can be kinder than us? (they are definitely kinder to their home at least!)

    I do not know about kids behaviour but yeah, I've seen mean kids too; I've seen the ones who get away with it and I've also seen the ones who get corrected. My brother and I used to be super mean to each other too, as in waiting for the other to fall asleep and then poke them with a needle, a prank involving poison ivy, etc... Luckily we learned better with time (and with parents' limits). Good parenting is such an important job.

    1. Oh I have thought a lot of this, animals do seem to respect their environment a lot more than us. They take what they need and not more. It is interesting though, Jane Goodall, on her time describing the behaviour of chimpanzees encountered behaviours that would otherwise be described as jealousy or even cruelty (which of course can not be described as such because that would be anthropomorphizing the behaviours).

      I guess there are some things we will never fully understand.

    2. I just watched a documentary called "I am" by Tom Shadyac, they interviewed many intellectual and spiritual leaders asking them 1) what is wrong with the world 2) how can we change it. And I they also talk about how we are the only ones who take more (a lot more) than we need from nature; they also mention that in nature individuals tend to be cooperative instead of competitive, as opposed to humans. It was really interesting.

    3. Hmmm this documentary sounds interesting, I will look for it!


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