When my daughter was 15 months old she developed an irrational fear of having a bath. Nothing obvious happened to bring it on – she didn’t get soap in her eye when we washed her hair, she didn’t get thrown in a swimming pool or left outside in the rain but for some reason, one day she decided to scream blue murder if we put her anywhere near a bath tub. We tried to coax and cajole her, there were bribes and threats, but in the end we had to accept she wasn’t going to get in the bath. So we entered three or four weeks of 70s-style stand up flannel washes and bought some ear plugs to protect our sanity when we had to wash her hair. Then one day, as quickly as it had started, the bath phobia stopped. One minute Mr Matey was her sworn enemy, the next she couldn’t wait to grab her yellow duck and get splashing.
I later realised this is what is commonly known as ‘a phase’. With no rhyme or reason your child takes up a strange habit or trait and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it – you simply have to cross your fingers that it won’t last too long and ride it out.
I have a friend whose little boy insisted on taking a glittery silver handbag with him everywhere from the age of 18 months to two. He loved his bag and would scream like a banshee if he didn’t have it slung over his shoulder on every outing. My friend tried to fight it at first but then realised there was no harm in this strange obsession (apart from the fact the bag didn’t match any of his shoes!) The rows ended and for months he was allowed to take his bag wherever he wanted. Then suddenly one day, he didn’t want his Kylie-inspired carry all, instead he put all his dinosaurs and soldiers in a Ben 10 backpack as he headed out of the door. The phase was over!
The problem with phases is that hindsight is a brilliant thing. You can look back fondly at the crazy and embarrassing things your child did when it’s a distant memory but when you’re in the middle of the surreal dream of a child who will only go out dressed as Batman; insists on talking backwards or will only eat green food from a green plate it can seem never ending.
My friends and I have come up with a phrase that we repeat to each other when we are bemoaning the latest crazy antics our children are putting us through “It’s called a phase for a reason”. The dictionary definition of phase is “a distinct period or stage in a process of change or forming part of something’s development”.
The clue is in the name – it is a ‘distinct period’ – it will end and who knows how or why, but these short episodes of manic behaviour are actually helping develop fully rounded human beings!