Yes, you read that right.
Having parented as a career—I’m in my 27th year of having a duckling underfoot—and working with lots and lots of parents and kids, I will go out on a limb (granted, a very wobbly limb hanging treacherously over frightening rapids) to say, yes, we want our kids to be sassy.
Admittedly, in small doses.
Here’s the deal.
Nothing pierces a parent’s heart quite like the first time their little angel places their hands on their hips and proceeds to let off a string of sass.
Actually, I take that back. We usually get a big kick out of the first time those innocent souls let rip, but our humor is only serving to mask the underlying terror as we are given a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Suddenly, in our mind’s eye, we’ve fast-forwarded our cherub from three years old to angst-ridden fifteen and our stifled laughter brings on a bout of panicked hyperventilation as it is revealed, in one sweet string of sass, that all of the wonderful parenting techniques we have utilized may just have been for naught.
But rest easy, warriors.
All of the foundational, positive parenting work you’ve undertaken such as using our “I messages” and “feeling talk” and “natural consequences” and nourishing our children’s “emotional literacy,” still serves as that: a firm center of loving, grounded foundation that we can fall back on for a rest, to exhale when the going gets tough.
It also holds a loving space of consistency for our children.
But sorry, no matter which parenting guru you followed or how centered your parenting practice was: your child will still sass.
And your child will yell.
And push some more.
And here is is why it is okay.
The developmental task of our children is to grow and mature and be able to eventually separate from their caregivers and move into the larger world and survive.
(Cue scene of the baby bird clumsily leaving the nest…)
Preparing for this separation is happening with those first sassy words and continues with a varying degree of subtle and not-so-subtle examples: the eye-roll, the under-the-breath-sarcasm or (heaven forbid) the middle finger.
Our response is usually knee jerk, either sadness or anger or an outright sense of failure. “I invested so much time into positive parenting to be treated like this?”
The first, most important thing we can do to survive these tumultuous behavioral bumps is understand the developmental significance; then act from that place of understanding.
“I know you want more freedom and space, but you have to understand if you are being very rude to your family, it would be irresponsible for me to let you spend the night at your friend’s house. I have to know you can control that behavior and use your manners at home first.”
“I want to give you more time with your friends, but first I have to see…to know that you are responsible enough to handle that freedom.”
When these behaviors begin early we don’t always have to sit and talk about feelings and reasons for our expectations. Sometimes they are just that: expectations. Or rules. And the more people know the behavioral expectations for the dinner table and other scenarios, the better.
And we don’t always have to make an attempt to analyze what is underlying our children’s behavior. Inadequate rest, storming hormones, social angst, as well as the developmental process of burgeoning independence can be at play.
If, by and large, you continue to see a child who is overall happy and adjusted, engaging well socially, and moving forward in other areas of development, chances are your King or Queen of Sass is just flexing their independence muscles with their less-than-pleasant attitude.
And even with knowing all of this intellectually, and having lots of practice, sometimes my heart is still very tender.
As my 27 year-old daughter, who as a wee sassy one led me by the heart into this treacherous terrain, told me recently when my adoring ten year-old had begun to show signs that my warranty of his worshipping me had expired,
“Remember mom, you cannot take it personally. Ever. It’s not about you. It’s about him wanting to be independent.”
Make your mantra-shield read: “It’s not about me,” and continue to provide structure and expectations and, most importantly, gently lead. Modeling behavior is the most effective form of teaching.
Dress yourself in self-care every day.
Ultimately, we can only control ourselves, and the better we feel, the more positive energy we share with those in our lives.
Author: Becky Aud-Jennison
Assistant Editor: Rebecca Lynch / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Author’s Own