No one likes a spoiled kid, but we all LOVE to spoil them anyway! But how do you manage this without creating a monster?!?!? Two years ago, I was a guest blogger for a popular Positive Parenting site. They hosted a Reader Q&A where readers were able to ask me anything! Check out one of the many questions I tackled.
Question: Positive parenting approaches seem to just make my toddler more demanding and he throws a tantrum whenever he doesn’t get what he wants. How can we continue practicing positive parenting without spoiling our child?
Answer: This is a fantastic question, and the answer is relevant to any parenting style! Let’s start with the first part of this question, which is the idea that Positive Parenting is making your tot more demanding. It sounds like you’re also experiencing an increase in tantruming behavior. In my book, “Trials of the Working Parent,” I dedicate some time to discussing basic parenting techniques, as well as troublesome behaviors, such as tantrums. Whenever I work with parents who are struggling with tantrums, I like to engage them in a discussion about what tantrums are all about.
In young children (i.e. toddlers), tantrums arise for a variety of reasons, but the common reasons are usually centered around a lack of vocabulary for self-expression, difficulty regulating their emotions, poor modeling from primary caregivers, and parental reactions to the child’s behavior. For the purpose of this post, it’s really difficult to go into a detailed discussion of all four of these common core reasons for toddler tantrums, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of each one.
Lack of Vocabulary- Most tots lack language. They are either just starting to develop their vocabulary, or know lots of words, but don’t know how to put them together in a way that is meaningful. This results in a child who has a need or want that they are trying to express, but can’t explain. This produces frustration and develops into a tantrum.
Poor Modeling- Most parents don’t like hearing this one, but we all have to consider it, including myself! Our kids are often a mirror, reflecting back to us our own behavior. For example, children who yell usually have parents who are frequently yelling themselves.
Poor Emotion Regulation- Emotion Regulation is the ability to control and moderate one’s emotions. Toddlers have poor emotion regulation simply due to their age and impulsive nature. This is a biological, developmental component to tantrums that all children struggle with.
Parental Reaction- Finally, when children become upset, how a parent reacts will either contribute to or diffuse the escalating behavior. So, looking into how you react when your child first shows signs of getting upset may help to shed light on whether you are contributing to the tantrum or helping to prevent it.
Knowing the common forces that cause and/or contribute to tantruming behavior can help us fix the problem. Regardless of which parenting style you are using, understanding why your child results to tantrums as a form of self-expression is the first step in correcting the behavior. Once you figure out the “reason” behind the tantruming behavior, you’ll be able to figure out a different way of meeting your child’s needs or navigating their wants.
The next part of your question was asking how can you use Positive Parenting techniques without spoiling your child. The answer to this part is also a very basic concept that anyone can apply regardless of the parenting style/technique being used. The rule I want you to remember is, “Always attach discipline or rewards to a specific behavior.” It’s my Number 1 Rule that I teach to parents in therapy. Anytime you are doing something special for your kids, like going to Disneyland or buying them an ice cream, you should attach it to a behavior you want to see replicated. This helps minimize the chances that you “spoil” them and increases the likelihood of positive behaviors from your child. Let’s look at some examples:
Timmy is asked to clean up his toys. He cleans up after being asked once by his parents. Mom gives him a cookie for his good behavior. She says, “Timmy, here’s a cookie for being a good boy.”
Timmy is asked to clean up his toys. He cleans up after being asked once by his parents. Mom gives him a cookie for his good behavior. This time she says, “Timmy, here’s a cookie for listening to Mommy.”
Timmy is asked to clean up his toys. He cleans up after being asked once by his parents. Mom gives him a cookie for his good behavior. This time she says, “Timmy, here’s a cookie. You listened to Mommy the first time I asked you to clean up and you did it without arguing. That’s why you’re getting the cookie.”
Let’s dissect these examples. Example # 1 is the way most parents respond, but it’s the least effective. We tend to assume our children know what they did that is “good.” The reality is, kids have no clue. Being a “good kid” means very little to young children. Example # 2 is better, but not the best. When I tell parents my Number 1 Rule, this is what they start doing. As mentioned, it’s better than Example 1 because it does attach a behavior, but it’s not specific enough. If you ask your child 5 times to clean up, and on the fifth time they follow through, they are still listening to you, but not in the way you want (i.e. it took 5 directives from you!). Example # 3 should be your goal. Rewards should be attached to a specific behavior that highlights exactly what you expect from your child. This helps reduce the likelihood of “spoiling” them and really increases the chance that they repeat these positive behaviors in the future.