Let kids be kids?

It seems that the phrase Let Kids Be Kids is having a resurgence. Don’t get me wrong – I’m into it. In fact, I say it a lot. And I believe it. But sometimes I’m astounded by the hypocrisy shown by people who trumpet this important mantra. They say it over and over again, but it just doesn’t ring true to me – because these same people only believe kids should be allowed to be kids when it suits them and their beliefs about what it is to be a child.

How a child should think and act.

Let Kids Be Kids comes up when there are discussions about morality. And yeah – usually, I’m on side with a lot of those. I’m not a fan of sexualised clothing and media aimed at (or exposed to) children. But that’s an easy thing to not be a fan of.

Kids shouldn’t watch porn. Well duh. Who the Hell is going to argue with that?

Where the rubber hits the road when it comes to the Let Kids Be Kids philosophy is when it’s about allowing children to BE who they are. Free from limitations enforced by oppression and bigotry. But, I have seen parents talk about how they’ll never let their daughter wear a string bikini because Kids Need To Be Kids but then in the same breath fall over themselves because they can’t gender-police a child who when dressed (how they as a child want to dress) doesn’t make clear what their gender is.

I have watched people splutter and sweat over how apparently entirely inappropriate it is for little boys to wear princess dresses or tutus or lipstick or necklaces. My son’s penchant for dainty floral headbands has caused many pulsing rage veins in the various necks of adults who really, really shouldn’t care what a child is wearing.

I have people insist I’m picking his clothes for him – That there’s no way a boy would choose to wear pink or something sparkly. I must be influencing him. Yet nobody ever suggests there is any influencing happening when little boys “just love trucks and think pink is a yucky colour”. How convenient for gender norms!

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If you really think about it – there’s literally nothing weirder and creepier than a grown adult getting upset that a child hasn’t appropriately dressed to identify their genitals. Because let’s face it – these are people who believe genitals equals gender.

But – there is at least dialogue going on in this area to challenge and reject that rhetoric. There are many great people like Rachel Hansen setting up amazing things like Freedom Kids to address the issue of heavily gendered childrens’ clothing.

What I want to talk about is what I call Normal Toddler Behaviour. Also known as – tantrums.

Here’s my Let Kids Be Kids view:

Tantrums are normal and healthy and helpful. Don’t get me wrong – they fucking suck for parents. My heart (and head to be honest) hurts sometimes when I see my son struggling with his feelings and feeling overwhelmed. I want to put everything in order for him, help him contain all of the bubbling emotions, support him through the scary pressure he has welling up within him. That to me is my job as a parent – when he’s having a hard time, I have to help him through it.

But the fact that he needs help? Normal. Completely normal. Toddlers are not adults with developed brains. There are people in their 20s, their 30s, hell there are people at the end of their lives at 80 and 90, who struggle to keep their emotions in check. We allow that (to an extent) so why do we INSIST (some parents with actual brutal force) that children must keep themselves in control of their changing emotions and hormones at all times?

We so encourage learning – Oh you can count! Wonderful! Draw a house! Write your name! But it seems learning how to be – how to manage your feelings, name them, work with them, adapt, change – is some kind of secret process that only happens by shutting the Hell up in public and keeping away from any nearby adults.

How often have you had to rush away from a public place because you’re getting glares because your toddler is going through Normal Toddler Feelings? How many times have you had to sit through lectures about how to “control” your child. How to get them to bend to your will, obey you, be quiet – as if that’s “good behaviour” because they’re not acting like ummm children.

So what would happen if everyone just accepted that children get overwhelmed sometimes and can’t process things and get scared and stressed and their feelings explode a bit every now and then? How would the world change? For children? For their parents? For society as a whole?

What if we didn’t have to bundle children into cars and race from public places and make them QUIET and make them smaller and make them take up less space because even if they’re not having a terrible tantrum they might have a terrible tantrum!

At my son’s birthday one of his little besties became overwhelmed by everything and got very upset. Normal toddler behaviour. Her lovely parents cuddled her, talked to her, took her outside for some space, negotiated, helped her through this hard time she was having. At the time I’m sure it was overwhelming for them – but all I kept thinking about was what a wonderful little girl she is. She’s clever and funny and sassy and adorable and spirited and happy! She has this incredible little magical grin. My son adores her. I adore her! Her parents adore her.

I also thought – thank God they’re comfortable here that they don’t feel like they have to go home. Because nobody at the party minded at all – because here, I’m saying it again: It’s normal toddler behaviour. Normal. All toddlers do it. Every one. They’re learning. Every day.

This wonderous little sprite has parents who are helping her learn. She’s learning. They’re learning. We are all in this together, making space so our kids can grow freely and BE KIDS.

She quickly settled down in time to do a beautiful OH MY GOODNESS reaction to a visit from Elsa to the party – and I’m so glad she didn’t miss that. She had a wonderful morning.

How many great little life moments do our kids and their parents miss out on because so many people won’t let them be kids? Insist they’re seen and not heard – and sometimes not even seen. That a child crying is just too much for us to handle in a public space?

Pffft. Let kids be kids. A tantrum is normal. That child is learning. The parents are learning. You can learn to – learn to make space for children and let them grow.

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  1. Great post. I personally think kids who are told to keep their emotions in check grow up to be adults afraid to feel. It makes me sad whenever I see someone on Twitter who is all, “Ugh, who wants feelings” like they at some point in their life were told to keep it held in. Feelings are how we process things and tantrums are how toddlers handle overwhelming feelings. Well said.

  2. I cannot agree more with everything you said. In particular you hit the nail on the head with kids and their feelings. I cannot stand hearing adults telling children not to cry or any other things that devalues feelings a child is having. Kids do so easily become overwhelmed and need a bit of love and space to get through them. Even just acknowledging how they are feeling can be so comforting to them even if you can’t do a thing about it. I love your blog!

  3. Interesting post. I sometimes wonder if my girls yell a lot because we yell at them. I am sure it’s part of it. But they were also pretty vocal as babies and toddlers, and I generally let them cry / have tantrums because I too felt that these were part of the range of emotions / forms of communication. I also wonder if the reason they are not as meek and mild as I was as a child is that my mum was often very angry as a parent, and quite intimidating. In other words, I’ve inherited the yelling as a parenting tool part but somehow my kids are not scared of me in the same way I was of my mum (she’s actually a good and not at all abusive person, she just had a tough time of parenting as my dad worked really long hours so she was like a married single mum and got frustrated a lot). Anyway, that’s a very long and roundabout way of saying that there’s a fine balance to be struck in raising girls to be both assertive and respectful (I think similar for boys too but also slightly different – allowing boys to express emotions other than anger). It’s very frustrating parenting kids who constantly challenge you and don’t take no as an answer until they’ve been told about 10 times (and had a dramatic cry about it), and I struggle as they sometimes seem disrespectful compared with the standards I grew up with, but overall I think it’s better for them to be like this than girls who learn to silence / censor themselves, or who are too afraid to express what they think, want, like, don’t like etc. As long as we also get the consideration for others side happening. Anyway, thanks for the thought provocation.

    • Cate, I appreciate your comments here. I also have two girls and want to strike a balance that allows them to keep their voices.

  4. Although I agree with kids wearing whatever gendered clothing they want to – your example of a string bikini gave me pause for thought. I have a 10 year old daughter and the day may come when this is what she chooses for a swimsuit. Its a tricky one for me, as I’m wanting to empower her to make her own clothing choices, be herself, and not be limited by her choices because of a creepy external world. But at the same time we live in a really hyper sexualized society, so how much of that choice is really coming from her? What kind of experience will she have wearing it? I just don’t think I could do it. But I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this. thanks.

    • I hear you Nicki. I feel the same – I used that example because to me it’s just a common one. But I absolutely agree with what you’ve said, and I don’t know what the answer is and I hope we get some comments about this from others ❤️ Thanks for asking this important question.

  5. I have a wee boy – like, 4 mths old – so was reading your comments on the gendered dressing with interest and storing them away for the future. They made me reflect as well that in the past, and we’re talking 17th/18th century Europe here, small children weren’t considered to have any gender at all. They were infants, and so were dressed in the most convenient clothing for changing nappies etc. At the age of 5ish little boys were “breached”. With a proper ceremony and everything.
    I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit actually as the christening is coming up and I have had to argue for the wee one to wear the family christening gown. (It’s 150 yrs old and has had 5 generations wear it, including me).
    Let babies be babies perhaps?

    • Just realised that autocorrect is still not my friend! Above should be “breeched”, as in given their first pair of breeches to wear! The alternative spelling makes it sound far more dodgy, apologies!

  6. I cannot agree more with everything you said. In particular you hit the nail on the head with kids and their feelings. I cannot stand hearing adults telling children not to cry or any other things that devalues feelings a child is having. Kids do so easily become overwhelmed and need a bit of love and space to get through them. Even just acknowledging how they are feeling can be so comforting to them even if you can’t do a thing about it. I love your blog!