There is little more frustrating for me as a parent to do something special for my child, like making a special meal or taking my daughter to visit with a friend, and THEN have her whine or complain, that it’s not what they wanted, they don’t like it, or even if it is a delight, then they throw a fit when it is over, or time to go. Do you see my eyes rolling into the back of my head, searching for a way to respond that doesn’t include duct tape? It seems they can’t be happy with what they have, they want more, more, more.
Fact is, this is human nature. We are pre-wired to understand our own wants and needs and work diligently towards getting them met. Babies only have the means to communicate through crying to get their needs met. It has helped us survive as a species. We need this drive to help us set and achieve goals for ourselves as children and adults. But, as we grow, we learn and use new methods to obtain what we need.
Children will naturally try any method they can think of to get what they need or want. These methods might include complaining or whining. and may even escalate into more physical behaviors like tugging on clothes or even hitting. If we allow these behaviors to trigger us to give them what they want, they have now learned an effective strategy. Ta-Da! This works. Even if we try to teach them a new method, they may persist in the problem behaviors, even to the point of getting worse, because they have seen that it works. They aren’t necessarily trying to annoy us or be mean, they are testing out these methods. It is a child’s JOB to see what works, how far they can go, and to test the boundaries of what we will let them do. That’s how their brain builds pathways for success, to discover what works, what doesn’t, and where’s the border.
If we DON’T meet their needs when we see these behaviors, they learn that THAT doesn’t work. But we can’t stop there, we must help them recognize their true needs (not everything they want), help them learn better ways to get what they need, and to choose to be happy with what they have. I believe we can all agree that this is a life-long endeavor, and the younger we start, the better.
For example, my children KNOW that I do not understand the language of WHINE. When my children start to whine, the hair on the back of my neck stands up, and I fear that I may arch my back and hiss back at them. Grumpiness is contagious ! It must be stopped in its tracks, or it becomes a vicious escalating cycle. My children know that I cannot tolerate it, and therefore I cannot hear them when they are whining. “You are speaking in a foreign language again. When you speak nicely, I can understand you.” has been my tactic thus far. It has been fairly effective, but not very creative, and it has not REALLY met the goal. Yes, it does get them to speak to me in a decent voice, something I can act upon, but it doesn’t change the nature of their complaints and grumpiness. My true goal is to have cheerful children who appreciate what they get, and learn to solve their own problems.
Recently, I read an article about the Success Story of how one mom used her son’s love of cars to teach him how to navigate bad moods and angry moments. Lights were flashing in my head as I absorbed this creative idea, and considered how timely it is for the parents of children in the Our Time Away We GO ! program. I was blown away by her vision of a cheerful child, and her creativity in the approach to helping her child make his own choices through mental images of things he could relate to. Steering Clear of Grumpiness is a golden nugget of parenting wisdom (found in both Parents and Family Fun magazines). Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan really connects with this parenting dilemma by creating a story that helped her grumpy 4 year old son visualize a path that allows him make the choice between a “bumpy grumpy road that was not fun to drive on”, or a “smooth sailing road that was fast and lots of fun to drive on”. Please go read the whole article, which includes “Learning to Drive Emotions” linked to at the bottom of the first page. This story, these visual images, and the way his mom presented them, have helped this child find a good path to peace. I am INSPIRED, as I hope many of you will be.
This story won’t work for my daughter, she won’t relate to cars. I’m not sure quite yet how to adapt the story, but I will make it work for my child, because even at 8 years old, she is still working on controlling those impulses to be controlling. Actually, she has a bit of a queen complex. Even as a young 2 year old, we tried to call her a princess one day, yet she exclaimed, “I’m not a princess, I’m a Queen !” And her personality fully fits the part. Maybe my story will be about a Queen and all she does for her people, yet some are grumpy… Or maybe it will be about horses, and rough rocky trails versus fields of flowers to gallop through.
I would LOVE to hear how you will set it up for your child. What will your story be for your child? How does it work for your family?
It is a critical aspect of our parenting to teach our children effective social skills, such as positive strategies to get what they need, and to choose behaviors and attitudes that lead to happiness, more so even than it is for us to teach them the alphabet or how to ride a bike. If they can master themselves, mastering knowledge and physical skills will be much easier.
I envision the peace that we will feel at the end of a fun day at the park when my daughter hugs me and thanks me for bringing her to play with her friends. I envision the peace that will come at the end of the day when she has chosen to be a loving queen with a happy kingdom. I envision a world where children and adults choose peace.