How to avoid the ungrateful child trap
This morning my 5-year old daughter broke out in tears when she realized that her cap was at the kindergarten. She so wanted to wear it this morning. As a rational adult, I tried to reason with her that the cap was already at the kindergarten. She could wear it the rest of the day if she wanted to. We just had to get there first.
She was sobbing in the car the whole way. Once we arrived the cap was luckily on her shelf (otherwise we would have had a conflict of astronomic proportions unheard of since the Bay of Pigs).
As I said goodbye and left for work, she was still crying. She was sitting at the kitchen counter with tears streaming down her face, waving goodbye with her little arm. Rips your heart out. Not my favourite way to start the day.
On my way to work, I contemplated the whole situation. I think she wasn’t just crying about her cap. That was only the catalyst.
The week before, me and my daughter had the whole week off together. She was probably also crying because we had a lovely week and were together all the time. And now it had come to an end. Now she was going back to kindergarten. In all fairness, she really loves her kindergarten. But still, it’s a place where she is forced to go.
Imagine you’ve spent the whole afternoon with your child. Perhaps gone to the playground and then to the movies and you had a really good time. The movie has ended and now it’s time to go home. Then your kid bursts out in tears and screams: “I want to see another movie!”
Your immediate reaction is to get slightly annoyed and perhaps a bit angry. Why does your child have to spoil this great afternoon? Why can’t she be grateful that you’ve spent time with her?
Before you engage with your screaming child, stop and think for a moment. Pause for a little while to enable you to interact with your child in a productive way. Not to react emotionally, this usually gets you nowhere.
Assess why your child is angry and crying. I don’t think she wants to ruin the end of a great day. She is truly upset because it has been such a perfect afternoon, spending undivided time with you. What could be better? And now it has come to an end. Of course she is upset. She doesn’t want it to end! With her outburst of wanting to see another movie she is trying to make this great day last longer. Going home means that it has come to an end.
If your response to your upset child is, “Why do you have to ruin this great day! Why can’t you be grateful that I’ve spent time with you and taken you to the movies!”
Your child will interpret that as if you really don’t want to spend time with her. That you simply did it because of obligation. Not because you wanted to. Been there, done that.
If your response is ”Stop crying! We are going home this minute!”
You will be dragging a crying daughter all the way home. Again, been there, done that.
Instead, try to see things from her perspective. Tell her that you also had a good time. Ask her what she thought of the movie. Talk about how you could do something similar again soon. Just the two of you. Try to do this before the breakdown. It’s always much more difficult to get through to a crying and screaming child as we all know.
Perhaps my daughter breaking out in tears over her missing cap could have been avoided if I had talked to her the evening before about the lovely week we had just spent together. Asking her what she thought had been the best thing, remembering fun moments, talking about how in a few weeks she will have the summer off. I don’t know. I can’t go back in time and try it out.
All we can do is when these situations arise, try to see things from the child’s perspective. Pause for a moment and evaluate the situation. Try to interact, not react. What is she really upset about? If we can figure that out, we have a much better chance of finding a solution that works.