What makes us good parents? Some people would easily fall into the cliché that the excellent parent is the one whose kids never have tantrums: they always do as they are told and are polite in public. This would apparently represents the proof that manners and hierarchy were well passed on to the new generation.
Actually, I would deeply suspect of those situations because if children are too compliant, it may not be a sign of good parenting: the risk is to simply erase their personality, asking them not to ever disagree or have uncomfortable feelings so that you as parents are always in a good place and don’t have to fight to get your mission accomplished (getting ready to go home, having a meal sitting down in a quiet restaurant and so on…).
The truth is we actually measure ourselves as good parents in those difficult times, when we manage to teach our children how to deal with their own emotions and why despite they want to do something one way, they will have to accept the frustration of doing it a different way due to the circumstances.
The best way to do so is to acknowledge their anger or their desire, showing we don’t deny feelings exist, and we absolutely don’t have to give a damn for a moment to what other spectators of the scene will think of it all. This last tip helps you relax about what’s happening and how to sort the problem out, to avoid underperforming as it happens in exams for instance. Usually with this approach the outcome of a tantrum is much softer and quicker than going the hard way: ‘I don’t care what is your problem, do not dare shouting and throwing yourself on the floor in front of everyone in the supermarket or you will pay it later at home!’ (a classic).
Let me provide you with two examples from my real life.
My 3.5 years old son wants to give the 4 items we are about to purchase to the young girl at the till. Unfortunately I misunderstood what he said and give them all myself. My son is in tears in 3 seconds saying he wanted to do it himself. I am very gentle to him (despite he is clearly over reacting in my opinion) and apologize for misunderstanding and give him back 3 items as ‘proof of good will’ so he can do it himself (as one has already been scanned). That is when he has a proper tantrum and throw himself on the floor, screaming in tears he wanted to give all of the items, not just 3, and now it’s too late.
What to do at this point?
Knowing myself, even just a few months ago, I could have gone on a total rage for his behavior and make it even more of a nightmare to finish paying those products off whilst trying to make him stop and holding my 9 months daughter in my arms at the same time…
Instead to my deepest surprise, what I find myself doing is to let go of the whole situation as I realize it does not depend on me and I cannot really control it. I let him lay on the floor, keep on talking to the shop assistant to finish my purchase, don’t give a damn to the people in the queue who are looking with disapproval to what is happening. It’s only once I finished that I remove my son from the way for another customer to approach our same till and I speak to him calmly on a side of the shop.
“I am very sorry I did not understand what you wanted to do, did you know mummy is human too, she makes mistakes sometimes? It does not mean I don’t love you very much: of course I do, I just did not realized you wanted to give all the items to pay yourself, will you forgive me for that please? Don’t you also think it was better to give 3 items in the end rather than none at all? This way you lost a chance to still pay something at the till… Do you agree it is reasonable we will go for whatever we can do at that point next time I misunderstand? Come on, give us a hug, you are my very precious little boy”. And Bob’s your uncle, left the shop happily ever after, till the next bump on the head 🙂
The other example relates to this feeling of inadequacy as a parent when for several weeks my son would be one of the rare children that would still cry a lot when being dropped to nursery. It would happen every time after half term holidays: the first 1 or 2 weeks he would cry his eyes out, holding onto our legs for us not to leave, even when his father would drop him without his baby sister being around in our arms. Consider this: my son had been going to a private nursery from 8am to 6pm since he was 15 months and he had been looked after by a child-minder the 3 months beforehand, since he was 12 months. He then moved to a council nursery when he was 40 months, soon after his sister was born, as I was on maternity leave and could not afford a full time private school, but only wanted to use the 15 hours through the government funds spread on 3 short days (9.20am-3.15pm). Therefore I would not understand why it was so difficult for him now that he was older to go to school when he was used to it and he was also staying less hours than he used to.
Of course the natural reflections came along, such as the arrival of a sibling, and the awareness that the baby would stay home with the mother whilst he was not allowed to. However he had stroke up amazing friendships when attending private nursery and he knew he could have fun with other kids rather than spending the day with mum who had all the house chores to do and would not play with him constantly… Nevertheless, when I would see him behave that way, I would feel ashamed on to why my kid would make it such a fuss to separate from me at nearly 4 years of age and felt worry and guilt on the way I had managed separation issues from the start, wondering if I had cause him any emotional damaged when he was much younger.
It is only one day that I started to totally relax about it and realized not everything is related to the parent, every child is different and you may not be able to change whatever is difficult to face for your child: you can only help him/her to find their own way to sooth themselves and learn how to find comfort to accept the things they don’t feel easy to go through. My son helped me making this realization when, one morning that he was about to make a crisis at my departure from nursery, he asked on his own initiative: ‘Mummy we need to call Karen (one of his teachers) to help me calm down because you are going’. I felt so empowered! I understood that instant that I had done a good job by teaching him that, despite it was OK to feel sad when I left him, that was life and I could not do anything to help him (when you stay comforting your own child in a similar situation, you get in a vicious circle where every time you attempt to leave the crisis starts again as you are part of the problem) but that he could easily find his own way to relax about the fact that separation bothered him a lot. Another proof that (when an abandonment issue has been excluded of course), self sooth is the final answer for a child to grow in a self confident and independent adult, at least from my own experience.
So to resume the two key points for good parenting that I personally learned in those occasions are: teaching self control VS controlling your child yourself and completely ignoring other people’s judgment whilst you are in the process of doing so 😉