You’re in a supermarket with your toddler. You have your shopping list and your little one is every so sweetly “helping” you to select items from the shelf and (not-so) carefully put them into the trolley. All is going well.
They see it.
The toy on the shelf.
Strategically placed by the store manager next to the “need-to-buy” items to guarantee being in your child’s direct eye-line and make the situation completely unavoidable.
The child wants the toy. You kindly say no. In your mind you can see the situation unfold in slow motion before it happens in reality. You try to remain calm, but the meltdown begins and you feel your own face getting hot. The child’s emotions are building like a hot stew in a pressure cooker. You try your best to keep the lid on the pot. Maybe you stay firm. Maybe you beg. Maybe you try to distract with some other product on the shelf. Maybe you get more stern and start using your “I mean it!” voice. You top it off with “the eyeball”. Nothing works.
The child erupts in a way that would put Mount Vesuvius to shame.
All the eyes in the shop are on you. Emotions range from disappointment to rage to embarrassment to helplessness. Thoughts like “I’m a bad parent” or “my child is so rude” or “I have no control” flash through our minds.
Why do these situations happen? Is it possible that there is merely a difference in expectations for the situation? When our expectations aren’t met, it elicits frustration, which most often leads to an undesirable outcome.
What were the differences between our (the parent’s) expectations and the child’s? The ability to prepare for the future is a skill that children develop over time. As the parent, we can see the sequence of events: go to the shop, get groceries, get done in time to miss the traffic, cook supper, bath time, etc… Children, in contrast, live in the here and now. And in this moment, the only thing that matters is the toy.
When we try to reason with our child using logic, it falls on deaf ears. “This is too expensive” and “We don’t have time now” are concepts that don’t make sense to young minds.
Once you identify your child’s capacity to regulate their own emotions on a developmentally appropriate level, it’s gets easier to accept that the contradiction between their expectations and our own are often at the root of the discouraged behaviour from both sides.
Finding the lost toy.
Rushing to find treats.
Anything to STOP the flow of tears and meltdowns.
Why do we do this?
Is it a bad thing to cry? Why does it make us, as adults, feel so uncomfortable?
Were you allowed to cry as a child? Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t.
The more we go out of our way to make our children happy at all costs- the more we teach them that crying is not ok.
What else can we do?
Listen. Let them cry and say things like, “I can see you’re sad. Do you want to tell me why?”
Validate feelings. “It’s ok to feel sad.”
Relate. “Sometimes I feel really sad too.”
Hug. If they allow you and it makes them feel better, then why not? Hugs are not a “reward” for bad behaviour. They’re a physical human need!
Do you cry?
When you cry, as an adult, do you say things like this:
“I’m sorry I’m crying!”
“I’m so embarrassed!”
“I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“This is so silly!”
How can you change that hidden belief that it’s not ok to cry?
Why do we cry?
Crying doesn’t mean we’re “broken”, it doesn’t mean we’re “weak”.
Crying signals to others that we are feeling emotions. Sadness, frustration, anger and sometimes joy! When others know we are feeling something, then they can be signaled to help fulfill a need.
How healing does it feel to have a good cry sometimes?
Sometimes I purposefully find a sad movie just to have a good cry!
Is it manipulative?
Often parents say they don’t want their children to use tears to manipulate. Manipulation implies getting someone to do what you want them to do by using any means possible.
Why would children use crying to get their own way? Well, if it’s worked in the past and someone has given in purely because of the flow of tears, then they’ll use it again.
Can you blame a child for trying to get their own way, when they’ve been taught that that’s a way to get it?
Big news! We actually give our children messages all the time by the way we react, that reinforces their behaviour.
If you don’t want you child to manipulate with crying, then don’t give in to crying. Let them feel disappointed and be there to support!
Let yourself cry, let your children cry, let everyone cry!
Next time you hear yourself saying, “Stop crying.” “Ok, that’s enough crying for now.” or “You’re ok!”
Stop. And maybe think to yourself, "Why must they stop? Why can’t they cry?"
CPASA Founder, Ripple Effect Parenting Owner
Has your child ever said they want your partner more than you? How did it make you feel?
My oldest daughter often says she wants her Daddy and she cries for him. Apparently, I used to do the same to my Mom. If I hurt myself I would ask her to call Daddy so I could tell him at work.
This week I heard my eldest daughter and her sister arguing over who’s Daddy he is. “He’s MY daddy!” “No, MY Daddy!” Which eventually turned into, “You can have Mommy! And I’ll have Daddy.” (face palm) That’s when I felt a twinge of rejection but also found it quite amusing.
Later in the week my child wanted her Daddy and I had one of my own “tantrums” and said to my husband, “I’ll just leave! You guys can have fun without me!” I realised as I said it that I was being a bit overdramatic and childish, but it brought up some feelings of rejection. My daughter came to me later and said, “Mommy were you sad because I said I wanted Daddy more than you?” And I decided to be honest. “Yes my baby, sometimes it hurts my feelings. But then I also see that you love spending time with Daddy and that makes me happy. You’re allowed to feel your feelings. Just know that I really love spending time with you.” I hoped that it was a good opportunity to also create some awareness for her without shaming or punishing her.
Why do they do it?
There’s always a reason for a child’s behaviour and often it’s a lot less complicated than we make it. We might think to ourselves, “My child doesn’t like me.” “I’m too strict.” “I should be the fun one, maybe then they’ll respond differently.” “My partner is too lenient! No wonder they want them more.”
It could be some of these reasons and it could be as simple as them not getting enough time with one partner. Sometimes children will prefer being around a parent who has more lenient boundaries- but this is for parents to discuss. In both cases this has nothing to do with the child- so shaming and blaming the child is not helpful or respectful. All it does is leads to a child feeling like they are wrong or bad and they have no skills to cope with these emotions. They are not able to question this and realise that their parents are making decisions (discipline strategies) that have nothing to do with them. They will take it on as their own issue- they may feel like the “bad ones” for choosing one parent over the other.
What we should try not to do...
1. Don’t label the behaviour – So often we hear people saying, “Ah such a Daddy’s girl!” And what do you think this does? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “We live what we create. We create what we live.”-Mommy Moo Moo
2. Don’t take it personally – Maybe easier said than done- but children aren’t intentionally trying to hurt your feelings. Children always behave in a way that they feel will help them to have their needs met. When children “prefer” another parent it doesn’t mean they literally prefer them or love them more. It’s not a reflection of your worth as a parent, but rather it fulfils their desire to have their needs met.
3. Don’t punish or shame them for it – “You’re so mean and nasty!” “That’s not a nice way to be!” These are ways to create less connection between yourself and your child and doesn’t build them up or encourage them.
4. Don’t use it for bragging rights – “The children like me better than you! See! I’m the favourite!” This is a great way to create an “us vs them” mentality and is likely to create a rift between you and your partner and you and your children.
What you can do
1. Validate their beliefs and feelings –If you have to say anything, just say it like it is- “You like spending time with Daddy.” or “I can see you enjoy it when Mommy puts you to bed.” Children don’t know the reason for their behaviour- and they’re not choosing the behaviour. Validation shows them that you see and understand their behaviour.
2. Explore the belief/reason for their behaviour – As I said above, there is always a reason for the behaviour. When you figure out the true reason, you empower yourself to figure out the best course of action. That may be – ignoring the behaviour and working on your own reason behind your feelings of rejection; or it may be working together to get on the same page in your approach to discipline.
3. Schedule special time with them – This is a great way to increase your connection with your child and to create memories and shared experiences that only you have together. Be curious about their interests and become a participant rather than the "leader of play".
4. Work on the reason for your own feelings – Ask yourself why your child’s behaviour triggers an emotional response. Are there some unresolved memories from your childhood that you may need to readdress? Sometimes just acknowledging the reason for your emotion helps your to respond to the situation rather than reacting.
5. Discuss it with your partner privately – If it seems to be something that needs to change and you feel that your parenting styles are too different (i.e. one of you is more dominant and the other is more permissive) you may want to find more Conscious Parenting strategies to use. Conscious Parenting has an amazing balance between kind and firm. It’s not Dominant or Permissive and it’s been proven to be the most psychologically healthy way to discipline children as it leads to an authentic parent/child connection.
At the end of the day your children are egocentric and aren’t always able to think of your feelings first. They are only conscious of their own needs and how they can be met- so it’s up to us as parents to find healthy tools to encourage empathy and understanding.
Co-Founder of the CPASA, Owner and Parent Coach at Ripple Effect Parenting
“Give it to your sister! She’s just little!”
“Come on, sharing is caring!”
“Kind children share!”
What is the big deal with sharing?
Why do we actually want our kids to share? Be honest with yourself?
It makes our kids look and seem kind. But did you know that the act of sharing is a huge developmental milestone?
Young children are developmentally ego-centric. They naturally think of themselves more than anything else in the world… not because they choose to. A child who is forced to share doesn’t learn to be kind, but may learn this:
Are kids who don’t share, bad people? Are kids who hate sharing less worthy than those who love sharing?
The messages we send our kids every day creates their sense of self-worth or lack thereof. It gives them an idea of who they are in relation to the world and those around them. If we let them choose who they are and why they do things, we’re actually empowering them to become much more independent thinkers!
Top tip: When encouraging any skill in your children always try to work with them not against them! Meet them where they’re at.
Do you like to share?
What are we actually asking children to do? Are they capable of doing it naturally? Often we ask them to give something away that belongs to them or that they had first.
Universal law… finders keepers ha ha ha
No, but seriously I wouldn’t share my cellphone with others, I wouldn’t share my car or other personal belongings either!
I wouldn’t want to share a pen I’ve just started using that I’m still busy with!
I definitely wouldn’t want to give up my spot at a coffee shop table because someone else wants me to.
And the big one… do you share with your kids? Food, pens, books? How often do we model the message that our things belong to us but their things need to be shared with others?
What can we do?
So now, it’s not to say we leave our children to think they own everything and never have to share! But can we find a way to encourage sharing and make them a part of the equation too? In order to encourage sharing we need one ingredient… internal motivation. How can we encourage a child to want to share? Sound impossible? Don’t worry! There are ways.
Sharing because a child is being forced to is not teaching them long term valuable lessons. It may even create resentment towards other children and a need to protect their things or become sneaky about their toys and other things. Using conscious parenting to help kids to understanding why we share and how we can share, can be such an invaluable lesson for them… and for us, too!
Co-Founder of the CPASA and Owner and Parent Coach at Ripple Effect Parenting