Love should be obvious to all

Sunday, August 20, 2006 In response to my recent "How to grow a happy child" column, a reader writes that while she agreed with its gist, she was disappointed that I made no mention of the need to give children love and affection. Furthermore, she said, it seems as if I believe there is "badness in children." In the 30-year life of this column, I've made less than a handful of references to children's need for love and affection. I assume that people who read parenting columns, books, and the like are folks who want to do the right thing by their children. I think it's safe to say that people who want to do the right thing by their children love their children. Furthermore, if someone who reads my column happens not to love their children, then my saying they should is not going to make one iota of difference. Love is not something one can prescribe. Parental love can, however, be defined by example, as follows: If, without a moment's hesitation, you would lay down your life to save your child's, then you love your child, and you certainly love your child enough. Period. End of story. I'm confident that 99.999 percent of my readers just said, "Yep, that's me all right!" The down side As for thinking there is badness in children, yes, I most certainly do, and the evidence suggests I am correct. Typically, the real human being emerges from behind the beguiling mask of infancy sometime during the second year of life, and the picture is anything but pretty. Anyone who has experienced this tumultuous metamorphosis and its aftermath knows that the philosophy of the "terrible" 2-year-old is comprised of three fundamental beliefs: (1) what I want, I deserve to have; (2) the ends justify the means; (3) no one has a right to deny me or stand in my way. Entitlement, pragmatism, and narcissism: these are the makings of criminality. One does not have to teach antisocial behavior to toddlers. They are by nature violent, deceitful, destructive, rebellious, and prone to sociopathic rages if they do not get their way. Example: A 2-year-old who has never experienced, witnessed, or even heard described an act of violence will slap his mother across the face or bite her most accessible body part if she dares deny him a cookie and then ventures too close to his tantrum. Toddlers are convinced that the rules do not apply to them, that they are under no obligation to obey legitimate authority, that in fact it is they who are to be obeyed. It is surely a measure of either God's mercy or the purposefulness of evolution that unlike other mammals, human beings do not grow to full size in one or two years. Socializing Socializing the toddler is the Single Biggest Challenge of Parenthood. Scaling this Mt. Everest requires a balanced combination of powerful discipline and powerful love. Neither alone will suffice. Loving authority liberates the human spirit, which is creative and loving, from human nature, which is destructive and selfish. But make no mistake, whereas the toddler may acquiesce, he never goes away, and every so often, even well into adulthood, he demands to be heard, to be the center of attention, to be catered to, to be obeyed. You've seen other adult's toddlers suddenly burst forth, and if you are reasonably self-aware, you can even identify regrettable occasions when you let your own toddler take over and begin terrorizing the world. The New Age gurus and humanist psychologists of the 1960s were right about one thing: the Inner Child is very real; he lives within each of us; he's the toddler that needs to sit in permanent time-out, preferably facing into the corner. Yes indeed, there is badness in children. But there's badness in you and me too. Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at