Monday, April 10, 2017

The One Piece of Parenting Advice That Literally Never Works

As a self-professed parenting book addict and mother of 6, I've read (and tried) every piece of parenting advice there is.

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.

Evidently there's a magic bullet to end temper tantrums. If only my children knew it was supposed to do 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.

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29 comments:

  1. Hahaha! I LOVE this and completely agree.

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  2. You know what, though? "Acknowledging and validating" feelings in public at least makes me look like a less heartless parent in public 😂😂😂 We're leaving whether I have to drag you kicking and screaming or not, but I'll quietly acknowledge your feelings while I strong-arm you to the car so that everybody can see how well that works 😜

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  3. Oh my goodness. RELATE! Dude, I remember telling an acquaintance how frustrated I was with my first kid's 2-year-old power struggles and she asked me if i tried giving him choices. I was like, "Yeah, but he makes up a third option."

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    1. I don't know a kid who hasn't figured that out!

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  4. Ha! I admit that I have tried to acknowledge her feelings lately during a meltdown and it hasn't really worked too well! Good to know it's not just me.

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  5. YES! The only thing I can acknowledge during a tantrum is how completely ridiculous and unreasonable they are being.

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    1. I've tried it so many times that I can say with certainty that my kid could care less if I understand how they feel. They don't want my validation, they want to stay at the park (or whatever they're melting down over.)

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  6. Yup, my kid just doesn't understand logic yet, and it makes for spectacular meltdowns like yesterday, when we woke him up from a nap (because he napped until 2 hours before his bedtime). He proceeded to throw the most massive tantrum I've ever experienced from him until he, my husband and I were all lying on the floor and my husband was feeding him mango chunks with an extra-long fork. He started getting worked up again after the mango chunks were gone, so Mr. Netflix stepped in with some well-timed Thomas the Tank Engine until dinnertime. Also, whenever I give him choices, his actual choice is the one that defies physics so there's just no-win there.

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  7. I've heard this advice, too. They say you should even sit there with your child so he or she is not "alone with their big, scary feelings."
    All I can think is that these advice givers either (a) have never had a toddler or (b) only have one child. How can you sit, validate, and be there amidst the feelings of one child when you have another (or several others) who are waiting for you to leave to go home and get lunch?

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  8. I completely feel your pain! I have gone through this with all of my kids. However, I must say my daughter has been the WORST! I think it's because she was spoiled rotten as a baby (joking! I know a baby can truly never been to spoiled, right??)

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  9. Yes! This is my beef with all those positive parenting articles I read... like how does this actual work, because every time I try to acknowledge feelings and reason with my child I get slapped and kicked in the face cause you can't reason with a 2 year old. Or a 3 year old!! It is literally impossible. They lack the capability at that stage of development to self regulate and think big picture, etc.

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  10. yeah, that never works. My youngest had the BEST tantrums though. She would lay down and be totally silent and still. We occationally tried to get her to do it for our friends.

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  11. I completely agree! I do my best to be a gentle parent but with the tantrums....I have tried and tried this. It is as if they simply can not hear us, or feel or calm, no matter how hard we try! I have read a few where the suggestion is let them feel it out (which I know works in many instances)and be there when they are done to talk, comfort, show compassion and understanding....however that doesn't exactly go over well when leaving the park or sitting in a restaurant! Thank-you for sharing this and reminding us we are NOT alone!

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  12. Love it! So true.

    Would you ever consider doing a post entirely of reviews of parenting books?

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    1. I am literally outlining a post with my favorites right now! It probably won't be written for a few weeks, though.

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  13. Funny. My youngest used to throw the screamiest tantrums anyone ever saw. My mother-in-law to this day had the best (worst) advice ever: turn the shower on cold and stick him in it! I mean, I don't know who wouldn't calm right down under a bracing blast of water. And this woman raised 5 kids!

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  14. Ha! Yes. Tantrums are not solved by empathy!

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  15. my kid has left the park slung over my shoulder a few times now. There's another parenting tip that I'm sometimes forced to use - "showing them who's boss" #fridayfriviolity

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  16. OMG this is MY LIFE!!! I don't know why the hell I still try it, but that's how it works out for me EVERY TIME!! They never care that I'm empathize he. They never care about feeling "heard." They just don't want to leave the damn park.

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  17. Amen! My kids never fall for that either!

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  18. No, it doesn't work for mine either. Completely ignoring them or saying telling them I know but it doesn't matter worked way better. I need to hand this blog out to all the new moms out there..

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  19. I feel like this advice only works for a very specific 6 month time period. But only if the moon is in the correct cycle and Mercury isn't in retrograde and...yea...it rarely works.

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  20. Oh so true! I had three boys and this pretty much NEVER worked at all.

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  21. Haha, love this - it pretty much sums up every trip to the park I've ever been on! #FridayFrivolity

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  22. Doesn't work on mine either. Only the throw the child over my shoulder while they are screaming their heads off and put them in the car routine works for situations like you described when they get all "tantrumed" up.

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  23. So true! I get so frustrated with all the empathy-building advice. My kids are the ones who get even more upset when I try to show empathy...and then they throw it right back in my face. Thanks again for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!

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    1. And when I think about it, I would feel the same: "If you know I don't want to do _________, then WHY ARE YOU STILL MAKING ME DO IT???"

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