Kids Are A Lot Like Puppies

Thad Reichley, Head of Lower School

A couple of years ago my family got a puppy. This was definitely not a quick and easy decision. We did our research on different breeds, talked to all of our friends with dogs, and even thought about the best time of year for our family to take on the responsibility of a new puppy. When we finally brought our new family member home, he did all of the things that puppies do. He peed on the floor, he chewed up shoes, and he jumped on everyone he met. These behaviors were definitely not appropriate, and... they were completely expected. We knew when we got a puppy that we would have to hide our shoes and clean up puddles. So when Ozzie did these things, it was hard to get too mad at him.

Kids are a lot like puppies. Besides being cute and happy just to be with you, they also do lots of things that are inappropriate. Many of these behaviors that are totally inappropriate are also absolutely developmentally expected. In the Venn diagram of "Developmentally Expected" and "Inappropriate" behaviors, the intersection is a grey area of behaviors that I call, "The Zone of Annoyance". When kids exhibit behaviors that fall into this zone, it can be frustrating. These behaviors usually require some adult guidance and they may also warrant consequences. They may even happen rather frequently. As a parent, they are the behaviors that can be, well... annoying. Still, it is not reasonable to get too upset or jump to any drastic conclusions about your child (or other children) because of them.

At a recent coffee for 1st grade parents, we spent some time categorizing common behaviors using the aforementioned Venn diagram. Below is what we came up with. Of course all of these behaviors fall on a spectrum, and struggles with gross or fine motor activities, for instance, may be developmentally expected or cause for alarm, depending on the severity. However, all of these behaviors are not cause for immediate concern. Many of them are developmentally expected and will improve, or even go away completely, with little to no intervention. A few in the annoying zone might require reminders, redirection, and adult support. And, only a small number are truly inappropriate and require swift intervention, consequences, and possible professional help. When all of these behaviors are simply labeled as inappropriate and problematic, it is easy to feel like something is wrong with your child. Or, even worse, it is easy to be so focused on one really irksome behavior, that really isn't something to worry about, and miss something that might actually be a real problem.

Like puppies, with a little guidance most kids will grow out of their annoying behaviors. And, like puppies, some might need more help to reach their full potential. However, by the time they reach adulthood, most people have stopped throwing sand, having tantrums, and using potty talk. Some of us are even responsible enough to be dog owners!