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