There is a fine line that we navigate as parents. It is a constant burden, a constant source of self-evaluation due to the heavy weight to our choices.
If we are too hard on our kids will that ruin them? What if we are too soft on them instead? The biggest problem is that we will never know. There is simply no one “correct” way to parent a child. Because all parents are unique as individuals, then unique as a parenting unit, and each child is unique as well. There are no right answers.
So, when it comes to our super smart, super strong willed, overly emotional and overly reactive 4-year-old daughter, my husband and I **occasionally** disagree on how to parent her.
I can still remember being in a retail store with her many years ago. The man who was helping my sister and I pointed out how well-spoken my daughter was. It led to further conversation, and I solicited his one piece of advice for a child like her. Simply put, it was
“Put her in situations where she will win.”
This advice had quite an impact on me, and I do my best to follow it. However, the flip side of this is that I often take ownership for my daughter’s misbehavior if I have mistakenly put her in a situation where she cannot “win.” This happens more often than I would like.
For example, she had a meltdown at the zoo today. The timing of our arrival was getting close to when she needed a nap, and even though we had driven an hour to get there, she hadn’t been tired enough to fall asleep. The zoo (crafty retailers that they are) made you walk through the gift shop in order to go inside, and she decided that she just couldn’t wait to get a toy until the end. I held my ground firm on “no,” because I hate to set a precedent like that. But once she started having a tantrum, there was no talking her down. I removed her from the store and told her that if she was going to have a fit, I would not buy it for her even at the end. It took her a minute or so and then she was able to calm down and move on.
I toiled quite a bit over it. I knew she was tired, and it would have been more ideal if I had organized an earlier time to meet. However, that would have been a difficult time for my younger son so I did the best I could. I did bend a little by still letting her have the toy after our visit because she did calm herself down, even though I would have preferred a quicker response. I compensated for the fact that I didn’t put her in a situation where she would naturally win.
My husband sees this differently, and I can see the validity of his perspective as well. He believes that a child should be expected to behave well despite whether they are tired, hungry, in a bad mood, etc. Whereas, I am sometimes too quick to jump in and give our children a pass based on one of those reasons. He will often say,
“I don’t really care what the reason is, I still expect them not to hit, kick, scream, melt down, etc.”
As with most things, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. When you can, put your child in a situation where they will naturally succeed. And when you can’t (which is guaranteed), you still need to place certain expectations on their behavior based on their stage of development. That may mean that you cannot expect an almost four-year-old to take being told “no” without any negative response. That some level of crying and unhappiness at not getting what she wants is normal, but you can be impressed by her ability to calm down faster than she used to. And, give her bonus points for being able to push through her missed nap and still have an enjoyable day.