My husband and I have been out and about over the last few days, and I have been up to my usual observations and analyses about parents and their interactions with their children. Unfortunately, there are many more instances that I feel are negative as compared to the ones that I smile and think, “That was an effective parenting moment”. The positives do occur, just not nearly as often as they should. So, I would like to share my recent parenting observations with you, how they were ineffective, and how it could have been better handled.
First, we were waiting for a table at a restaurant. As we stood in and among all of the people, we observed a mother dragging her crying toddler out of the restaurant. The three (or so) year old was saying something incoherent to me through her pacifier-filled mouth. (I will save my thoughts on that for a later article). Nonetheless, the mother responded to whatever the child said with, “Too bad. It is your fault. You ruined dinner. Thanks a lot for that.”
So, the little girl stood outside on the step crying, looking up at her mom with an obvious mixture of confusion, sadness, and need for consolation. Her mother didn’t respond to her feelings, and they eventually walked toward the car. I assumed they were leaving, since dinner was “ruined”. However, a few minutes later, they emerge from the parking lot and walk back into the restaurant carrying coloring books, toys, and a backpack full of things for her to do.
Several things jumped out at me right away. First, regardless of how cranky or difficult a child is at any given moment, there is never a need to tell them something is their fault, or to place blame on them. A child does not understand the concept of abstract reasoning, which would be required to remove themselves from the here and now and comprehend blame. Also, regardless of what happened inside the restaurant, it seemed to be solved by having some kid-friendly time occupiers accessible. The little girl appeared much happier with some of her things.
Second, we were walking into a store the following day, and a young mom (mid to late twenties) was walking in with her three kids. My guess is they were all under the age of six. I did not hear what the oldest boy said to his Mom, but she responded with, “Yeah, well, your Dad is supposed to be sending lots of things to you and never does, so good luck with that.”
I can only deduce that she was implying he was delinquent on child support payments or something like that. I can also assume that there was a lot of resentment between her and their father. Sadly, that meant that she was unable to keep her emotions out of her response to an innocent comment from her son.
Again, I had several thoughts. First, never let your feelings about your child’s parent come into play. Never make negative comments to your children about their parent. Never vent about your frustrations with their parent to them. Doing so puts your kids in a very difficult position. First, they have to choose to side with you, side with their other parent, or neither, leading to confusion. Second, they love both of their parents, and shouldn’t have to feel guilty about that. Third, and most important, kids love to have hopes and dreams, even if they don’t come true. So, even if a parent has not been consistent, a child will continue to wait for them to come through for them. If and when that doesn’t happen, they need support from you, not further criticism of the other parent.
Finally, while in the aforementioned store, a child was in the shopping cart and was not happy. It was either lunch time, nap time, time to have less stimulation, time to do something more fun than shopping, etc. The child started trying to climb out of the cart, and got his arm stuck somehow. His mother responded, “No. Sit down.” He told her that it hurt somewhat tearfully, and she said, “I don’t care that it hurt. You hurt yourself. If you wouldn’t do that, you wouldn’t be hurt. You did it to yourself.”
So, here are my thoughts on that scenario. Children need us as parents to be attuned to them. When we neglect to key into cues, such as whininess, fussiness or crankiness, we miss our opportunity to meet their needs. This child was obviously needing something different, and trying desperately to get his mom to realize that. Sometimes that means negative behaviors!
Rather than belittling him for hurting himself, which should also be added to the never do category, it would have been helpful to acknowledge that he was tired, bored, frustrated, etc. and make the necessary adjustments. Also, this is an example of needing to recognize what the behavior is rooted in, rather than disciplining out of intolerance.
Okay, so that was my weekend, as far as family dynamics synopses go. On a positive note, however, I will end with two parent-child interactions that made me smile while out and about this weekend. One involved a mother wanting her daughter to hold her hand around the cars in the parking lot and the toddler was resisting. The mom said, “Come on – that hand is really heavy to hold up all by yourself and I can help!” Second, we were walking through the toy aisle and a mom spontaneously said to her daughter with a smile, “Do you want to go home and have a water-gun fight?” as she threw a pack of water-guns into the buggy.
We can always choose to be loving, considerate, understanding and compassionate with our kids, even though it takes commitment and work. Let’s find creative ways to get what we want from our children, be in-the-moment silly, and not resort to manipulation or negativity. They need us to be appropriate role-models!