No, You Can’t Do That: Being a Kid is Hard

As I get older, I forget things. This is true for everyone, of course. What I’m thinking about these days is how “parent” and “child” seem like two separate entities. I don’t remember, besides some specific memories, what it was like to be a child. There are things I enjoyed playing with, the friends I had, the holidays at various family houses. What I don’t remember are the feelings I had. What did it feel like, for me, to be a kid? Did I feel helpless? Did I feel misunderstood? How did I work through my anger or sadness?

These days I find myself getting exasperated with E, who is 5 years old, in some really minute moments. She got new superhero bedsheets this weekend, and I had put them through the washer. They were in the dryer when she went upstairs to pick out her pajamas. This was before dinner, before books, and before teeth brushing  She came downstairs to ask me to get them for her.

“They’re in the dryer. They’re still sort of damp. They’ll be dry by your bedtime, though.” I said.

“But I want them on my bed now!” She said in an instantly shrill voice, furrowing her brow.

“Well, your other sheets are dry. If you want sheets on your bed now, you can put those on. Or, you can wait for your Batman sheets, which will be dry by the time you go to bed.” Sometimes I think explaining things will help, but it usually doesn’t.

“No! I don’t want those sheets!” Now she was getting upset.

“Do you want me to go into the basement and get the Batman sheets for you so you can put wet sheets on your bed?” I try ridiculous logic. This is me, grasping at straws.

[She stomps back upstairs]

If an adult had reacted in this way, I would have unfriended them on Facebook. When does the logic development start, and more importantly, what does it feel like to not have a well-defined sense of logic at this age? What does it feel like to a young person to hear “You’ll still get [X, Y, or Z] if you can wait [2 minutes, 40 minutes, 3 weeks].” and not have a comprehensive sense of time?

When I wasn’t spending a lot of time with young children, I interpreted a lot of this behavior as disrespectful. I sometimes still have that knee-jerk sarcastic reaction of “Oh hey, you’re welcome for [washing your sheets/doing your dishes/cleaning your things].” when it happens, but now I don’t point it out. I’m understanding more and more that some of these things are developmental. It must be really hard to go through our world without the ability to connect A to B to C and make it to F where the solution may be. I can’t imagine what it feels like to a young person to be constantly relying on adults to provide everything for you, even as you are trying to build and own your power and agency in the world.

I wish I could remember how it felt to be on the other side of this equation. I guess I’ll have to rely on my own understanding of time to know that she will develop better logic and reasoning skills. It’s pretty clear that I don’t remember my emotional past. Is there a child version of ginko biloba? Maybe I could start E on them now, so she won’t go through this with her kid(s), if she ever has any.

7 thoughts on “No, You Can’t Do That: Being a Kid is Hard

  1. I deal with that same issue with my kids (6, 7, 9 and 14). The older they are, the better they are with the logic. However, when Teen Girl gets anxiety logic flies out the window. When Misses 6 and 7 are tired, cranky, fighting with each other, or it’s just that phase of the moon, there is no point in logically trying to explain things to them. Mister 9 has his own issues and logic only works when he’s not mad at me (he and Miss 7 are my bonus kids), which isn’t very often right now. My strategy is use logic and if they chose to melt down despite it I repeat myself once and then go on with my plans. It sometimes helps them see more logically a little bit later when they notice that I don’t bow to their meltdowns. It’s hard and frustrating though, and it is never a pleasant experience. I am very old-fashioned in my child-rearing practices though, and talk to my kids in a more adult manner, even if I have to explain a little bit more so they understand. I find that seems to help more than anything. Kids are capable of so much more than a lot of parents give them credit for. 🙂 Just remember, breathe and know that they love you anyway.

    • Thanks for that insight! It’s hard for me, right now, to move past a meltdown when I can see the reasoning of a situation. I find myself trying to explain in different ways so that she understands – but maybe she will just not understand because of that level of development. I’m going to try out your “repeat once, move on” way.

      • Sometimes when you continue to explain in different ways you end up overloading them with too much information that they can’t process, thereby making it worse 😦 Sometimes you can revisit your original explanation when the meltdown is over and they can learn from it. Sometimes they’re just kids and you just toss your hands up, walk away, and do something that makes you feel better. Kids don’t have to feel good all the time, they don’t have to have an explanation for every little thing. It’s not fun knowing you’re the bad guys sometimes, but the more you capitulate to them the more tyrannical they can get during those special moments. And honestly, sometimes that knee-jerk reaction is something they need to hear. One of my favorite books right now is called Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement ( It’s helping me not feel as guilty when my kids have to do something other than be kids and not have any responsibilities or expectations for their behaviors and actions. I highly recommend it!

  2. The lack of logic in children can be very tiresome 🙂 What I noticed in my own parenting is that if I validate the emotion, regardless of its rationality or not, it helps. I think that children’s emotions are so often dismissed as inappropriate or irrational that it can become harder as they grow to be honest about them. Maybe it is because as an Italian partnered to an English person, I have strong feelings about cultures that privilege rationality over emotions, and how they are often seen as ‘superior’ to cultures that privilege the expression of emotions. Maybe it is because I am a therapist. Maybe it is because sometimes I am not very rational when confronted with my hormonal 9 year old, and I sometimes yell instead of staying calm. I always apologize afterwards and explain what was going on for me in that moment (e.g., it was early in the morning, and I was in a lot of pain, I felt you were not being considerate of my feelings with your yelling. Yelling back was not a good response, but it was a human response. I am sorry. How are you feeling? How can we best move forward from this emotional moment?). On my better days, I try asking m, when she is being irrational, what is going on. Why is having this t-shirt to wear essential today, in fact right-now-this-very-moment? Why does this page need to be finished tonight, on the toilette while I need the bathroom too? What is going on really? I have found some of our conversations pretty insightful for us both. Of course, on some days, I just want her (and me) to be adults about it all, then I remember this humanity thing is quite vulnerable and fragile 🙂

  3. Not that it will help create logical thinking in a 5 year old but next time you feel like explaining the why of something involving time try handing your child a timer. “I’m sorry_____ is not ready yet but it will be when this rings” kids as you mentioned have a limited since of real time and I have found after 21 years of parenting its harder to argue logic with a timer. In regards to how a child feels the lack of any strong memories of those feelings that you describe reaffirms to me that most children really do live in the moment (today its wet sheets tomorrow it that first love gone wrong) trials we all must face and grow from!

  4. Pingback: Guest Post: We Start and End with Family | Queer Dads

  5. Yep, my kiddo is 5 and we go through many of the same things, intermixed with complete cosmic warmth and love that I could just about pop. I can sometimes almost start to remember what it is like to be a kid, but the feeling kind of floats by like bubbles from a wand, and *poof* its gone… Someday, we will wish to GET to try to get the bedsheets dried, but for now, sometimes they just need to learn to get over it 🙂

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