By Jay Spencer Green
Jay is an award-winning writer of indie comedies based in Dublin. He tweets @JaySpencerGreen
What is actually going on in your toddler’s little head when she shoves peas in her ear, guzzles bathwater, or strips naked in the cinema? We asked our resident child psychology expert, Friedrich Nietzsche, author of Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Superkids: Raising Your Child in the Shadow of an Absent God, to give us some insight into your children’s thought processes and to offer some advice on how to respond.
Quirky behaviour: Taking off her clothes anytime, anywhere.
Toddlers love being in their birthday suit, as Hilary McStott knows all too well. “My kids start stripping the minute I’ve finished dressing them,” says the mom from Camberwell. “They’ll actually leave a trail of clothes from their bedroom to the playground. It’s like they’re competing to see who can get naked the fastest!”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence. Your kids are merely expressing their resistance to the herd mentality that requires that you cloak their natural exuberance in the uniform of conventionality. Leave them alone. It is you who are sick.
Quirky behaviour: Banging her head over and over again on the crib railing before she goes to sleep.
Until toddlers have the words to tell you when they’re tired or anxious, they have to rely on nonverbal ways to comfort themselves, and head-banging is one of them. “My Susie spends most of the night hitting her head against the foot of her bed,” says Carrie Bhent of Norway. “I was extremely worried to begin with, and we tried medication for a while, but this just resulted in her fixing her eye on us both with a look of contempt mixed with mockery.”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: Listen closely to little Susie. Under her breath she is saying “Enough, enough.” She is old before her time and already knows that God is dead. You can let her face this truth alone, you can lie to her that life has meaning, or you can buy my book and teach her to make her own truth and delight in its contingency in the face of snake-oil peddlers and loathsome men of the cloth. Or you can buy her a helmet.
Quirky behaviour: Holding his breath to get what he wants.
It’s always scary to watch your toddler go blue in the face, but it’s also extremely common when kids don’t get what they want. “Colin has developed bulging eyes and rosacea on his cheeks and nose from holding his breath so often,” says Karen De Snatch of her six-year-old. But this hasn’t tempted the single mom from Stafford to let him have his way. “He can hold his breath till the shit runs down his legs as far as I’m concerned,” she says. “He is NOT getting Sky Sports Extra.”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: It isn’t Sky Sports Extra he’s after, woman. He wants you to die, you smotherer of pleasure, you denier of life, you withholder of joy. He tries to faint only to blot out your existence, because he does not have the strength yet to take a knife to your throat in the night.
Quirky behaviour: Drinking bathwater.
You offer your kid water all day long and she often insists she’s not thirsty. So why is H2O suddenly so enticing in the tub? “Janet won’t drink anything until another human being, or sometimes the dog, has bathed in it. And yet if it’s soapy water, she won’t go within a mile of it,” says frankly malodorous father Stuart Penhaligons of Streatham. “I’ve tried playing tea party with her all afternoon, and she’ll say she’s parched yet only pretend to sup her tea. Get her in the bath and she guzzles it down like her mother on payday.”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Your daughter has both courage to withstand your crass dramaturgy and the wit to test her own limits and find the world wanting. She will one day be your master.
Quirky behaviour: Shoving every little thing up his nose or into his ear.
Your toddler isn’t just curious about the world around him—his body is exciting new terrain too. “My Billy has discovered he has this body, and it’s all his and it’s fascinating!” says Niamh Jockey of Aberdeen. “He puts beads, peas, rocks, grapes, apples, whatever he can find, up his nose, in his ears, up his arse. My husband wants to put him on TV. I’ve only shown him to the neighbours. We made three grand.”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology. That said, your son is laughing at you and you do not realize, idiots that you are. Take a strap to him.
Quirky behaviour: Tossing a present aside and playing with the box instead.
You pick out the perfect gift for your toddler, yet she’s more amused by what you consider trash. “We buy our Celine the best of everything, yet she still insists on running in circles in the back garden giggling and laughing with cheap pink ribbons streaming in the air behind her like some easily pleased dullard,” says Dennis Lowceiling of Ballsbridge, Dublin. “She knows the value of nothing. We’re at our wits’ end. Could it be she is adopted?”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. Insanity in individuals is something rare—but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Celine is no dullard, she just refuses to yield to your shallow Bourgeois priorities. She should pray she is adopted. Pray to an empty sky.
Quirky behaviour: Reading the same books over and over again.
Just as you have a favorite book or song, your child is developing her own preferences, and she’ll become increasingly vocal about her likes and dislikes. But repetition also serves a greater purpose: Security. “Gary reads The Da Vinci Code over and over and over,” says his mom, Julie “Biggie” Smalls of Luton. “It isn’t like he hasn’t figured out what’s going to happen, but his vocabulary has stalled at that of an eight-year-old, and he’s now twenty-three.
Friedrich Nietzsche says: Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. Your son has not just gazed into the abyss, but what he has found there obsesses him, for it is the truth of his own dark soul. You should have bought him Harry Potter and let him die a slow death of conformity.
Quirky behaviour: Only wanting his father.
It’s hard for mom not to take it personally when she feels snubbed by her child. But the truth is he’s not doing it on purpose—in fact, it’s not really about mom. “Bobby can spend weeks at a time without even speaking to me other than to say ‘Where’s my dinner?’” says Leslie Fang of Newtown, Birmingham, “so it’s no wonder our son Kevin treats me the same way. Frankly, I’m thinking of killing all of us with pills.”
Friedrich Nietzsche says: Are you going to woman? Then don’t forget to take a whip. The child will one day kill his father, of course, but that is the way of the world. Delight in the affirmation of power!
From the February 2019 issue of Postmodern Parenting (U.K. edition).