Helping Children Who Are Tyrants;
It's Hard Work


Scripps Howard News Service

"No!" says Henry, emphatically and about two dozen times an hour.

"I don't want to," screams Godfrey when told he must do something. And when Hobart is told he may not hit, a parent or provider hears in return: "But Ajax was hitting."

This is called "talking back," and it's as common as salt. Although it's disrespectful, it's mild; it won't make you gasp, it won't even make most parents or providers annoyed. This kind of talking back passes as ordinary childhood behavior - today.

But tomorrow, when talking back grows up, and "no," or "I don't want to," becomes a general attitude of disrespect, disobedience, and a failure of normal cooperation, parents and providers should realize it all began with ignoring the toddler's "no."

Disrespect is a habit and, like any bad one, it builds slowly. It breeds a lack of trust, it breaks down bonding with parents and with providers, it unseats adult authority at home, in child care and later in school. It begins a trend that says "The rules are not for me."

Kids who think: "I don't have to, and you can't or won't make me play by the rules," are children at risk of losing many good childhood experiences.

They are trapped by the habit of "no." Some make their own rules entirely, just like an adult. But children can't handle adult roles, and children burdened with self-parenting often become tyrants.

A tyrant is a child whose formation has been abandoned. He has been left to his own devices by the adult world, which he often grievously attacks for abandoning him.

Tyrants are known to kick, punch and spit on parents and providers, scream at them in public, call them horrendous names, denounce them, curse at them, even threatening to report them to child protective services.

Stopping kiddie tyranny is tough because its roots most often are in the home. Curbing disrespect and disobedience in children means a really honest parental self-evaluation. It may mean learning what it really means to be a parent: a person in charge who makes the rules and enforces them. It means finding child care that backs up good parenting skills.

It means learning not to give into the child's worst habits, not making excuses for awful behaviors, not overlooking disobedience and disrespect, and not taking the easy way out.

It means battles, tears, tantrums and all the noise makers in a wild, somewhat primitive, exhausting war zone.

Following through on any new course of character-building is not easy on the kids, either. Tyrants are not likely to give in to a new set of rules when the old ones were comfortably non-existent. But as children are resilient, they are also quick learners. It takes serious parents and providers about four weeks to re-establish who's the manager and who's the player if there is a consistent and firm commitment that the formation of the child really is important, and adults are willing to do the work necessary to turn things around.

During the battle, remember two things:

- Tyrants aren't happy. They are lonely, often developmentally delayed, selfish, have little curiosity and make few friends.

- Children don't grow out of tyranny by themselves; they only rearrange the furniture of their lonely castles and strengthen the walls.

(Judy Lyden is a licensed day-care provider. Write to her:
c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN
47702, or e-mail to

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