Last evening I was talking to some people about how we teach children to be unhappy. Ans sure enough, when I dropped by the market before going home for the night, I saw yet another example of exactly what I was referring to.
There was a child screaming at his mother because she wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Unfortunately, I see this kind of behavior more and more frequently.
What I know about human behavior is that this is not the first time that little boy acted that way. He learned it by trial and error. It became one of his tools for getting what he wanted.
Why? Because it works.
At some point, the parent finally gives in and gives the child what it wants. It might be because the parent is embarrassed and wants to shut the kid up. Often, it’s because the child finally wears the parent down.
As long as the behavior eventually gets the outcome the child needs, he will repeat it. It might be that it is the only way the child gets the attention he craves.
But trust me, a child who learns to get his way through screaming, badgering, and manipulating, will grow up to be an unhappy adult.
The First Time
I suspect every child attempts to throw a fit when they are told they can’t have what they want. It either works or it doesn’t.
Here’s a story about my daughter, Amber, who is now forty-eight. I did not allow my children to have sugar. When she was two, she threw her first fit when I would not let her have one of those grotesquely multi-colored cereals.
She threw herself on the floor and began to kick and scream. I did not react. Instead, I allowed her to carry on, even though people were looking at me like I was a bad mother. I didn’t care. My intuition told me to simply allow her to ‘do her thing.’
After she had worn herself out, she got up and never again threw another fit. When her brother, who was three years younger, tried it, he got the same reaction from me. He never tried again.
You Can’t Reason With a Screaming Child
A couple of weeks ago I was on my morning walk and saw a couple trying to deal with their screaming child. The mother was kneeling down, trying to talk the child into calming down. When children are in the midst of a meltdown, you can’t reason with them.
When you do, you are giving them the attention that all children crave. That is a form of reward. When a child is rewarded for bad behavior, it becomes a tool for them to get what they want.
When I first got involved with Stephen, his daughter was in the habit of crying and getting upset when things didn’t go her way. Once I felt comfortable enough to become part of her ‘parenting’ team, I stepped in. I told her she could cry and be as upset as she wanted, for as long as she wanted, but to do so in her room.
She marched off to her room, slammed the door, and continued her outburst. But not for very long. You see, she realized very quickly that she wasn’t getting any attention. After she had settled down, she joined us. We didn’t say anything about what had happened because that would have given her attention for bad behavior. But it worked because she never tried that behavior again. Today, almost five years later, she’s one of the most joyful, delightful children I know.
What Does This Have To Do With Your Relationship?
It has a lot to do with your relationship. Think about it. If you have a child who regularly behaves this way, with outbursts, screaming, even throwing things, how happy is your home?
And what if the parents don’t agree on how to deal with this kind of behavior? Yep, a great big ugly wedge is sitting between you.
My advice, only reward good behavior. And remember, attention is a form of reward, even if it is you getting angry at the child.
You have an obligation to teach your children to be happy. You owe it to yourself, to your relationship and society. The world needs happy people who are kind, compassionate, and respectful of others.