I Am Not Nice To My Kids

Thursday, 15 January 2015

I recently saw this post on a Facebook group from a well-intentioned mother, who wanted to sell off her newly purchased red dress and lipstick, because her toddler “cried when he/she saw the red colour”.

I was horrified.

It is completely understandable that we want the best for our children. That also extends to making sure that they are happy, well-fed, comfortable etc. However it is an entirely different matter when you allow a 2-year-old to do something like dictate what an adult chooses to wear.

We have four kids, aged 7 and under in our household. It’s pretty calm at home on most days, but I used to get monstrous with them whenever anyone started throwing tantrums about anything, or intentionally did something bad—because you can’t really reason with a toddler, but they certainly get it through your tone of voice that they did something wrong. Thankfully I don’t have to resort to that much anymore. Having said that, I cannot imagine myself reacting the same way as this lady.

Granted that I don’t know her exact circumstances that caused her to take this course of action (maybe she has a special needs child, I don’t know). Assuming that all is normal, however, here’s why I think that mom didn’t do her child any favours by reacting this way to her toddler’s outburst.

1. The child is being taught that it is completely OK to throw a fit about something he/she doesn’t like, and it will be ‘fixed’ - for them.

We’ve all done this before at some point—placate a hysterical child by giving in to his or her demands, just to get them to calm down. While I agree that children shouldn’t be left to cry for too long, we need to be extremely mindful about why they are crying in the first place. I try not to do things for the kids to stop them from crying, but rather to get them to figure out how to approach the situation so that they’ll feel better about it.

Here’s an example. Sean (he’s 2 years old now) sometimes snatches toys away from his older siblings, and as a response, they snatch them back. So he cries. Sometimes I intervene and show them all how they can adapt their play to include everyone, and show that there are other options to the desired toys, or explain that they can take turns to play with them (a timer helps). The crying usually stops fairly quickly and playtime resumes. I don’t always tell the older kids to just give him the toy he’s after, because in my mind, I would be teaching him to always expect this kind of privilege.

I think it is critical to teach children to take control of a situation they are unhappy with, and to help them get used to the idea that they are ultimately responsible for their own happiness.

2. The child learns that their preferences and opinions overrule everyone else’s, and does not tolerate these differences.

There is so much emphasis on encouraging children to express their emotions and thoughts on pretty much anything these days. I get it - it can be frustrating if you are trying to articulate that you would like some company, but your caretaker hands you a bottle of milk instead. However there is a vast difference between painstakingly teaching a child to communicate with respect, versus allowing them to be irreverent. It is clear which outcome is easier to attain.

To me this is a slippery slope to go down. A parent may be very obliging to their child’s demands in the home, but what happens when they grow up and go out into the world, where not everyone (or every situation) is quite so accommodating? Would they know how to be happy, if all the while their parents were changing situations to suit their children, rather than teaching them to adapt?

Even more worrying is that the child is not being taught to respect the opinions and perspectives of others. For a toddler, it begins with just being made aware that other children and adults may have different ideas from their own. For older children, parents can have more in-depth conversations about how interesting the world is when they open themselves up to listening to other people’s viewpoints.

Can you see how this affects things like religious beliefs? Racial tolerance? Work ethics?

And I think this also contributes to the sad state of our throw-away society, where so many critical decisions are centred squarely upon one’s personal convenience, at the expense of the wellbeing of future generations and our environment.

3. The child doesn’t learn how to take “No” for an answer.

Last year we planned for a nice getaway to Phuket and intended to take Andrea and Brandon with us. They were excited when we told them, months in advance. On the day that my hubby was booking the flight tickets, Brandon was extremely rough with our cats, despite repeated warnings and tellings-off.

So we booked a ticket for his younger brother, Reuben, instead.

Brandon was devastated. I felt sorry for him, but we stuck to our guns and told him that his behaviour was unacceptable, and him missing out on this holiday was deemed an apt punishment.

Learning how to constructively deal with disappointment, rejection and failure is a critical part of childhood. Being told “No” instils resilience and creativity (“Now that Mummy says I can’t watch TV or play with the iPad, what shall I do instead?”). It shows them that they always have choices and alternatives that could also lead them to happiness.

Now guess what’s going to happen once a child whose every request is pandered to at home, when he has to make his way through the world? When every episode of bad behaviour is put down to him being “too young to understand”?

So please, carry on teaching your child how to adapt to the world around her, rather than expecting it to bend to her every whim and fancy. It will be harder at times, for sure—but the end result will be truly worth it.

As for Brandon, he still had a great time staying with his grandparents while we were in Phuket—and I have never caught him manhandling the cats since.

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