The Boy has once again snatched one of his sister’s toys. He was very happy playing with the Duplo, building a house that would not stand up, until he heard the tell-tale sounds of his sister having fun. He came to see what she was playing with and took it off her so he could play with it instead.
When I take the toy piano away from him and return it to The Girl, telling him she had it first and it is not kind to snatch, he grabs it back and says: “But I want it.” His tone implies: now that you know this, surely you will back down from your ridiculous position and let me have the toy.
A few moments later, the Boy is wailing in time out for trying to hit Mummy and not listening, the Girl has abandoned the piano in favour of smashing up the one-walled Duplo house, and I am in the kitchen nursing a headache. Amidst the pain and the screaming, I have an epiphany: this is the time in his life when the Boy learns not to be a sociopath.
All the seeds for a life of narcissism or crime are there in the three year old mind. The snatching incident demonstrates an “I want it, therefore I should have it” attitude, but there is more evidence that a three year old is a budding psychopath, depending on you and only you to stop him before it is too late.
I did a little test once, to see if I was a psychopath. You can do it too, here:
You are at a funeral. At this funeral, the daughter/son (pick preferred gender) of the deceased catches your eye. You have a wonderful day with them. You have great conversations and really click, and you are starting to think you might be falling in love. Afterwards you keep thinking about them. You want to see them again. How do you go about arranging this?
I’ll give you a moment to think.
What was your answer? If it was: I’d phone them the very next day, you’re fine. If you had I’d phone them every day until they agreed to come on a date, that too is fine, you are perfectly normal. Was it: I’d find out everything I could about them on the Internet and get involved in all their weekly activities? Don’t worry, I did the same when I met my husband. Stalking is absolutely fine.
So what’s the wrong answer then? If your first thought was: I would kill his/her sister, then you are a psychopath. Your sick brain seems to think that your best chance of seeing this wonderful person again is by replicating the circumstances of your first, successful encounter, and so you think the best way to orchestrate that is by killing another relative.
Nobody thinks like this, you say?
Just the other day, my son had a friend to lunch. The last time this little boy came to visit was maybe three months ago. I had the kids sitting at the table and was about to bring in the scrambled eggs on toast, when our perfectly behaved guest said very calmly: “I am ready for my pancakes.” I suddenly remembered that pancakes was what I had served up three months ago at his last visit. The poor little boy had been looking forward to more pancakes ever since the play date was set up. I decided to play it cool and breezy.
“I’m sorry, but it’s eggs today,” I said as I brought in the plates.
“I don’t like eggs,” he said quietly, struggling to contain his disappointment.
I felt terrible and gave him an extra yoghurt.
My son does the same thing. When I tell him he is going for a play date at his friend N’s house, he will excitedly start to tell me what they will do: “Yes! I go to N’s house, and we play with Cuddly Milly and Cuddly Bot and we watch Team Umizoomi and then we play with trains!”
It makes perfect sense to the three year old mind. This is what we did last time and we had fun. Why mess with a good thing? Let’s have the same play date over and over!
Other worrying trends I have noticed are his overenthusiastic affection.
“I just giving N a hug!” he insists when I intervene.
“That is very nice, but you were squishing her, and she didn’t like it any more. You can tell, because she was saying stop and trying to push you away.”
‘No means no’ starts earlier than you think.
And then there is the classic walking in the Grey Area of the Law. I tell my son he can’t swing the red blanket around or he’ll knock something over or hurt someone. So, watching me out of the corner of his eyes, he will swing the blanket – a little bit.
“What are you doing?” I demand.
“I just gently swinging the blanket,” he says.
When I confiscate the blanket there are outraged tears. He wasn’t doing anything wrong! I am starting to feel like he is a genie in a lamp or worse, a lawyer, and I have to word my prohibitions and instructions with extreme care, excluding any other options, limiting and delineating precisely what behaviour is okay and what will incur penalties, or else he will be through those loopholes like a shot.
So, this is where the magic happens. This is where we teach empathy, respect for other people’s feelings, bodies and possessions, delayed gratification, respect for authority and altruism.
This is where we teach them to subjugate their desires to their will and their will to their conscience.
This is where they learn that collecting little keepsakes from your friends is not cute, it’s creepy, and that playing the violin on your own in your room ultimately leads to a sad and lonely life.