My son has recently become a boy king, owner of all he surveys. ‘MY bag’, ‘MY dinner’ and especially ‘MY train.’ He says the latter in relation to the battery of small locomotives he carries about his person at all times, just so he can loudly declare them his property to anyone nearby.
In those cases, at least, he’s speaking accurately. Those are his trains and we have the receipts to prove it. Such claims get slightly less defensible when he says the same about actual, people-carrying trains. Sometimes I bring him down to the platform just so he can settle his nerves. ‘MY train,’ he snarls cheerfully to random strangers as they disembark, generating a pleasant response from people who don’t know him well enough to recognise the avarice behind these words.
Before I had kids, I always hated parents who laughed off kids’ antisocial behaviour as normal, because I didn’t find my shins being kicked quite so quirkily delightful as they did. Now, I go too far the other way, apologising for my son’s strops every few seconds. ‘I’m sorry,’ I’ll say to the shopkeeper, as my son shouts, ‘MY chocolate!’ sweeping the lower shelves with an arm. ‘He thinks he’s emperor of the universe.’
We know it’s normal and try to speak to him, softly but firmly, about the need to share. But this feels like trying to stop a speeding train with a thoughtfully worded poem. I’m informed that tantrums of this sort are a key step in grappling with your identity as an individual. As heartening as that sounds, it’s hard to chalk this behaviour up as a necessary stage of development when you’re the person introducing this shouting, 2ft-tall oligarch to public spaces.
It puts me in mind of something I call the Parenting Problem Paradox. This operates in stark contrast to the better-known ‘Dr Google Paradox’, which states that any medical ailment you have – a light sweat, a sore knee – is always fatal. ‘Ah, a chesty cough AND a stiff wrist?’ your search results will solemnly intone, ‘let’s just say I wouldn’t be buying any green bananas if I were you.’
The Parenting Problem Paradox goes the opposite way; the more you research any antisocial childhood behaviour, the more the internet will try to convince you that everything bad is perfectly normal. Lying? Creative cognition! Biting? Assertive dominance! Killing small animals and arranging their skulls in pyramids? A subversive artistic streak!
It’s not that I want my son to have some specific personality disorder, I’d just rather there were better, more lasting remedies to his tantrums than telling him sharing is good and waiting it all out. But that’s where we are at. Waiting, on a platform near our house with nowhere to go, my son lightly simmering as the trains steam by.
‘MY trains.’ he reminds me loudly, as they chug on past regardless.