I resist all this “toddler taming” rhetoric: my kids are not feral dogs, and I don’t want to cow them into following instructions.

Okay, start again. Philosophically, I don’t want to cow my kids into following instructions. Ten minutes before nursery starts, when Firstborn is lying on the sitting room floor refusing to put her coat on because she’s a bumble bee, I wouldn’t mind why she did what I asked if she just damn wellwould.

But anyway. Not a feral dog, for sure. I tend to think of my task as drawing out who the kids are, or some such thing; something like the job I used to do facilitating group discussions. I create a space in which they can safely explore their limits.

But Secondborn has been biting me a lot recently. He’s teething (molars), and flesh is his teether of choice. He’s also just getting mobile, and can crawl over to me and hit me, fall on me, headbutt me, pinch me… and it hurts. I have broken skin and bruises from the bites, various bashes and dents about my person. Secondborn weighs nine kilos, and he’s ten months old. He’s done me more physical damage than any person since Firstborn was his age. She wasn’t a biter, but she headbutted a good one.

Neither of my kids are abnormally violent or problematic, just average small kids. But I’m startled by Secondborn’s strength (as I was by Firstborn’s, I now recall). If he can raise a bruise on me, how scared should I be surrounded daily by 80-kilo adults who could presumably each snap me like a twig? How scared should I be of my own capacities?

But in fact, I walk down the street each day pretty sure that nobody’s going to hurt me physically. Society is a contract whereby we just don’t do that. If everyone used their physical strength on other people every day, we just couldn’t live as we do.

So my task is to make Secondborn into a person like pretty much everyone else; to get him to a point where he knows that it’s not okay to sink his teeth into whoever’s nearest even if his mouth is sore. Firstborn already knows that, at three.

Is that taming, getting someone to the point where they don’t use brute strength on other people? It’s such a basic lesson I’ve forgotten I ever learnt it. What would a totally unsocialised person be? Could they actually be a person as we recognise it?

This comes down to my occasional wondering “Kids aren’t born knowing anything, are they?”


2 Responses to Civilisation

  1. Steph says:

    I haven’t thought of it as taming, exactly… it’s teaching. Teaching what’s acceptable and what isn’t. (Which…. is taming?)


  2. Kate says:

    Well, it’s those “toddler taming” books I’m thinking of.

    I’m not sure it’s “teaching”, either, because that implies to me that you’re interacting with someone on a much more equal level – communicating with words, probably, for a start.

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