Fighting the urge to explain our kids

Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on May 24, 2024 · 6 mins read

I’m trying to stop feeling the need to excuse my child’s demeanour (not to be mistaken for their behaviour) and instead, just accept they are who they are and adore them for it.


I have one of those toddlers who, god love him, does not warm easily to people. The same goes for new places, animals (regardless of their cute factor) and play centres. Despite being out of the womb for almost 2 years now, it appears my son is still acclimatising to life as we know it. And during this period of acclimatisation, to any newcomer, he may come across grumpy … and peppery. 

I’m constantly telling myself, he is not grumpy. He is reserved, a tad bashful and observant. 

While this sense of shyness is quite typical for any 2-year-old child, compared to his 4-year-old brother at the same age, his social reservation is quite an adjustment. 

He’s simply more comfortable (and therefore more confident) when he’s in the presence of familiarity. His home, his parents, his brother, his cot.

And fair enough! To be honest, I’m much the same – and I’m a wee bit older (34). I’m not shy per se, but rather a creature of comfort and a homebody. My personality leans towards introversion over extraversion nearly all of the time.

While I understand my little guy (appreciating the fact he’s only 2 and his personality is very likely to change), too often I find myself ‘explaining’ his demeanour to those around me. Or worse, apologising (!!) for his dislike to be held by others. 

The language of justification


I’ve fallen into a habit of justifying his nature. And quite frankly it feels wrong. 

Maybe it’s because I am so accustomed to my older son running into a crowd of people introducing himself, singing them a song and inviting them over for a playdate (insert smirking face emoji). Maybe it’s because parents these days feel pressured to have a ‘perfect’ child who conveys the right emotions, at the right time, in the right social environment.

In a few words, this is sensationally unattainable.  

I’m actively trying to stop saying things such as;

  • Oh he’s just woken up and seems a touch grouchy 
  • He’s got some teeth coming through –  the poor darling is in all-sorts
  • I think he’s going through an attachment phase, sorry!
  • He’s so hungry today! Don’t worry, he’ll perk up after a snack or two!  

… and instead not to care as much. He is who he is. And I love him for it.

If you, like me, find yourself apologising or overcompensating for your child’s nature (again, I’m not talking about behaviour here), I don’t think anything positive can come from it. While it can feel tough to fight the urge to explain your child, perhaps we need to encourage ourselves to consider another perspective. One that acknowledges how our choice of words may negatively impact them in the future. 

Let me explain, using my own personal situation.


An unwelcome but effective awakening


If my little guy continuously hears me call him grumpy, shy, anti-social, or fussy, his developing brain will likely associate these words with his personality. Or how people see him.

I’d hate for my sweet boy to think he was a grumpy bugger. When just like me, he just loves to be at home, surrounded by family and familiarity. I want him to know that his nature is accepted, respected, adored and understood. 

I recently had an encounter that gave me an emotional nudge. Although I took something away from it, it was uncomfortable.

My husband and I were at the park teaching our 4-year-old how to ride his bike. A

After a few loops on his wheels (which naturally included a few falls, tears and about 250 photos shared with the family Whatsapp thread), we headed home to let the boys explore the playground. 

As I took my 2-year-old out of the pram, I noticed a dog approaching (on a lead) with his owner. I knew my son would scream bloody murder if the dog came within a 2-metre radius, so I scooped him up into my arms where he’d feel safe. Despite this, he still screamed. Of course.

The dog owner looked my way with guilt in her eyes. She clearly felt bad to have frightened my son so much.

Without a second thought, I said, “Oh don’t worry about him! Your dog is gorgeous, it’s just my son. He has a funny little phobia of dogs. Sorry!”

The woman shrugged and walked off.

But then she turned around and quite purposefully walked back to us with an obvious bee in her bonnet. 

She said (quite impertinently might I add), “I was thinking about what you just said to me about your son. You said he has a phobia.” 

She huffed.

“I’d read about mothers who ‘label’ their children, and you did just that!! Your son does not have a phobia. He has an understandable fear of my dog. And rightly so as in his eyes, my dog is big and scary-looking.’

She paused for breath, giving me a chance to blink. 

“By using the word phobia, you’ve just labelled your son with a mental illness. Which he does not have”

She was done. 

Yikes, right?

Despite appreciating the crux of what she was saying, to ambush a mother like that in public isn’t something I endorse.

Anyway! To keep the peace and end the conversation, I replied, “Thank you for letting me know. Enjoy the rest of your walk.”

I then had a bitch to my husband (naturally) because that was pretty full-on… but I did consider what she said. People are intriguing, are they not? 

While it’s always each to their own in the parenting journey, I did feel as though this encounter added a new angle to my thoughts about calling my little boy grumpy too often. Labels – no matter their focus or seriousness – can stick to little minds if we’re using them flippantly and a lot of the time. 


Just letting them be


We don’t owe it to anyone to apologise, explain, justify, overcompensate or label (that word still brings up shudders from the park lady), our child’s nature or their little quirks if they’re not harmful to anyone. We should feel comfortable to embrace their personalities and enjoy watching them mature, change, learn, observe, mirror, transform and grow over the years.

Every single human – whether they’re 2 or 72 – will have moments or days where they’d rather be left to their own devices. Every single human – whether they’re 2 or 72 – will experience the need to be alone and untouched. 

And kids are kids. They pine for what they know. They crave the warmth and known scent of their parents or guardians because we are their world. Their safety. Their home. Their everything. 

If they are resistant to newness – that is ok! They’re not turning their back to the world, they’re simply saying, I’m not ready to let go yet.

 

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