BW II explains it this way: Foolishness is a heart problem while Childishness is a head problem (page 87). The head problem simply needs information. The heart problem is a bigger deal because your child is choosing to do the wrong thing--choosing to disobey. Both require correction, but different methods of correction.
This might seem simple to determine, but if you have a child who makes both childish and foolish decisions, you know that you as the parent often evaluate the situation incorrectly. Usually you are wrong in that you assume a childish action was done in foolishness. This can happen if you assume your child knows rules that haven't been explained. You might assume your child should make connections that he just isn't capable of connecting. Or you might be telling your child to do or don't do something and he just doesn't understand what you are saying. He lacks the vocabulary.
For example, you might tell your child to not run. First, does your child know exactly what running is? Even if he is running at the moment you instruct him not to, you can't assume he will know what running is. He will think through what he was doing and try to figure out what you meant by "run." Many will try to reenact things they were doing when they were told to not run in order to figure that out, especially if they don't know how to say, "What does run mean?" Your toddler will be in the preschool years before he really can use words to clarify something like that. So be sure your child knows what it is you are asking of him.
You will see a lot more of the misunderstandings in the younger months. When your six month old blows a raspberry and splatters food all over you during lunch for the first time, you might touch his lips and tell him "That's a no, you keep your food in your mouth." The look on your face and tone in your voice will tell your baby he has done something wrong, but he won't necessarily know what it was. Some might get it right away while others won't. Those who don't will usually repeat the action like a little scientist, trying to figure out exactly what wasn't okay about what he just did. If you stay consistent, he will figure out more quickly what he did wrong. Your child will continue to be a scientist throughout his life as he grows up and tries to figure out exactly what is expected of him.
One morning we were in our church hurrying to our meeting. Our son Brayden was trying to hurry also, and started to run. I instructed him to not run. He was at an age where he knew just what I was talking about, so he didn't run. He walked really quickly--you know that pace where they are so close to the run--, which wasn't what I considered to be reverent enough for the church either. I might be able to expect an older child to know that if I tell him not to run that means he must also not walk quickly, but definitely not of a child this young. Also, I had made the mistake of telling him simply what not to do rather than adding in what to do. Further explanation helped him to know what it was I was asking of him. His quick walking in this situation was not a defiant action. He didn't think, "I'll show her; I'll just walk quickly then." His quick walking was a childish action. He did not yet know exactly what was appropriate and what wasn't appropriate in the church.
Sometimes you will assume an action that is neither childish nor foolish was foolish. For example, a few days ago my daughter Kaitlyn (22 Months) was sitting on the potty. She reached out and unrolled some toilet paper. This is not something I have ever addressed with her. Brayden never touched it, so it hasn't occurred to me to talk to Kaitlyn about it. This action was childishness. I told her we don't play with the toilet paper. She told me "okay Mommy" then immediately reached up to it again. I started to give her my Mommy Glare and tell her that was a no when I realized she wasn't reaching to play with it; rather she was rolling it back up as it was before she unrolled it in the first place. She was attempting to correct her wrong action. . It is good to wait a moment to know exactly what your child is doing before you jump to your conclusion and start to discipline and correct.
In general, a childish act should get a verbal response from the parent. Tell the child no, explain what was done wrong, then instruct on what to do instead: "That's a no. We don't touch the toilet paper. Keep your hands in your lap." You can certainly add things. If the child made a mess, you can have the child help clean it up. You can have the child correct any wrong that may have been done. Even if something is an accident, it still needs to be corrected. People don't just get to walk away and say, "Oops."
You can be sure an act was foolish when your child has already demonstrated an understanding for expected behavior in that situation. A foolish action will require more discipline. Exactly what you do and how you do it is dependent on the child. The child's age, frequency of the offense, situational context, and the child's overall behavior all factor in to deciding what to do (page 87)--more to come on these factors in a future post. As the parent, it is for you to decide what to do. Be sure to see the many discipline posts for ideas.
Life with children is never cut and dry. Here is a story to illustrate. Brayden loves certain types of blankets. As he has gotten older,we have restricted where the blankets were allowed to be. At one point, they were allowed upstairs, but not on the main level. Then we decided it was time that they must remain in his room. I told him his blanket must stay in his room. He had a day where he left his room with it several times. This might seem foolish, but it was actually childish. He wasn't leaving the room with it having decided to disobey, he just was in the habit and wasn't thinking. The next morning, he left his room with it again. I told him that if he left his room with his blanket one more time, he was going to lose the blanket. I asked him if he understood, he said yes. I told him to leave his blanket in his room, he said "yes Mommy." About 60 seconds later, he declared he needed a tissue and ran out of the room with his blanket in tow.
I knew that this was again a childish action. He wasn't willfully defying me. But I also knew that something extreme needed to happen for him to have reason to remember the new blanket rule. I took the blanket as promised. I have never seen him so upset. He didn't throw a fit, he was just emotionally upset at the prospect of losing his blanket. After a couple of minutes, he calmed down. He knew he had messed up and he was ready to take the consequence.
Later that day, I gave his blanket back. He was very grateful and told me he wouldn't leave his room with his blanket any more. And he didn't. So you can see from this story that childish actions still need correction. And just because the child understands something doesn't mean it is automatically a foolish action.
Make the effort to figure out if your child is being childish or foolish. As you get to know your child, you will recognize cues like a certain glint in the eye when the child is knowingly disobeying. You will continue to misjudge. You aren't perfect. I still misjudge Brayden, who is almost 4. But you will get better at it. Keep these things in mind as you determine if an action is childish or foolish:
- Don't assume your child knows rules. Explain things to your child as age appropriate.
- Don't assume your child will realize that if something is wrong, similar things are also wrong.
- Be sure your child understands what you are telling him.
- Be sure you tell your child not only what not to do, but what to do.
- Observe your child for a moment before assuming he is being disobedient.
This originally appeared on Growingkids.org: Childishness vs. Foolishness.
- Proactive and Directive Parenting
- Get To Know Your Child's Personality: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/get-to-know-your-childs-personality.html
- Tantrums and Discipline: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/tantrums.html
- Training in Times of Non-Conflict
- "Yes Mom"
- Moral Training: Start Early
- discipline (blog label)
- Babywise II (blog label)