My not yet two year old daughter is in an abusive relationship.
And while I somewhat jest here, abusive relationships are no laughing matter. People in abusive relationships often show patterns of abuse going back many years, across many relationships, whether they are the perpetrator or the victim. Where does it start? When can it start? How early can one get into that vicious cycle? How do you prevent that from happening? There are many questions to be asked as we pray and hope it never happens to our child.
In this particular case, she is the one “abusing” her playground buddy of two years: she bosses him around, commandeers his scooter at will and smacks him upside the head every once in a while for no apparent reason. The two have a long history as they have been playmates since they were only a few months old. They play together almost every day and go to the same nursery school. While this is a familiar playground or sibling situation we’ve probably all observed, it is not always easy to gauge whether to let it be or do something about it as you risk either overreacting or being complacent. Ahh, the joys of uncertain parenting decisions…
“Ye who is most evolved, wins”
I think part of the dynamics my daughter’s relationship with her playground buddy is that she is already speaking and he is not. A toddler’s language skills are also rather direct and lack much subtlety (“Come here!”), so it may sound commandeering to an adult observer.
We also push our children to communicate as early as we can so that they can express their wants and desires. Once they achieve that, whether through pointing, signing and speaking, parent and child are quite excited. Not getting what they want once they can properly communicate, however, is much harder for them to understand. Why can’t I eat fruit now, when I could earlier? At the age of two, not being able to immediately satisfy a want is a level of reasoning that may not yet have been achieved.
My daughter is actually quite sweet. She’s a happy and healthy kid, she pays attention in school, where she listens to the teachers and plays well with the other children even if she does smack her buddy from time to time. She’s social with other adults. Given that she is generally quite “good”, it seems that this is a relationship specific dynamic where she is the dominant personality. She can be quite bossy at home, too, and can be brat when she does not get her way. She is currently the only child in the house and we can tell that she is pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with: “Don’t touch the power outlet” and she responds by leaving her finger right next to it and staring me down defiantly, while “Please don’t touch the bottle on the coffee table” turns into trying to touch it with her toe instead. And here is I thought to expect that kind of behavior somewhere around year four or five.
As she enters into the realm of the Terrible Twos, one hopes that it’s going to be just a phase or no phase at all. We don’t know yet. The danger is that you if think it’s going to be a phase and let bad behavior degenerate into a full blown case of Spoilt Child Syndrome, the leprosy of modern parenthood.