I agree that kids thrive when given reasonable limits, that discipline should be consistent and fair, and that natural consequences are the best teacher. I could mentor a new mom in my sleep.
But there's one piece of parenting advice that I've never used with any amount of success — and it's not for lack of trying.
Supposedly, there's a magic bullet to end temper tantrums: when your kid is really upset, let him know you understand how he feels. Empathy, the theory goes, works with children.
Just not my children. Because this is how it looks when I try that.
Scene: the local park. The kids have been yelling "Watch this!" for hours and having the time of their lives. I've given a 5-minute warning, and now it's time to leave.
Me: "Okay, it's been 5 minutes, time to go!
Child: [as if he had no clue this was coming] "Nooooo!!"
Me: "I understand, my beloved son. You're really having fun and you don't want to leave."
At this point, he's supposed to sniffle "yeah," dry his tears, and then take my hand so we can go home and bake cookies for the rest of the afternoon.
The problem is that my child has not read the script. Or any script. Because what he says (or rather, screams) next is:
"Don't WANNA leave!"
Well, clearly this child just doesn't feel validated enough. I kneel down beside him, furrowing my brow sympathetically, and say, "You wish we could stay here."
Inexplicably, he still does not nod his head, give me a hug, and skip to the car.
Instead he balls up his fists, stamps his foot on the ground with all his might and yells, "Don't WANNA leave!"
"I know. It's fun to play at the park, isn't it?"
He kicks and sends a shower of mulch flying everywhere, his eyes brimming with tears of rage. "Don't WANNA leave!"
Hmm. It's starting to seem like this kid doesn't give a rat's behind if I understand his plight or not.
Because the bottom line is that whether or not I appreciate the fact that all he wants to do in this world is go down the twisty slide on his belly one more time, we're still leaving. I know it, and he knows it.
Therefore, everything I say from this point on is completely irrelevant to him. I could be speaking French for all he cares.
I say something like "We'll come back another day, but right now it's time for lunch and we're going home," and then I start walking back to the car.
He trails five feet behind me, hysterically shrieking "DON'T WANNA LEAVE!" all the way to the parking lot while the other moms look up from their kids' organic apple puree pouches and think, "Tsk, tsk, if only she'd tried acknowledging his feelings first."
I can't tell you how many times this exact scenario has played out over the last 12 years of mothering various children. All I can tell you is, maybe this tactic works on a select group of special unicorn children out there, but it never ever works on mine.
After lunch it's time for nap, which is my son's cue to start wailing "I don't want to go to bed!"
Ignoring his protests and summoning the enthusiasm of a circus ringmaster, I hold up two books in my hands and try another piece of parenting advice: giving a choice. "Do you want to read Little Blue Truck or Go, Dog, Go?"
He appears to consider the options for a second, then throws himself on the floor screaming "I DON'T WANT TO GO TO BED!"
Maybe make that two pieces of parenting advice.