2 reasons your toddler seems ungrateful (hint: it’s not because he is)

2 reasons your toddler seems ungrateful (hint: it's not because he is)
The other day, my husband made one of our usual breakfasts—oatmeal and fruit—with a little extra treat for our toddler: a peanut butter sandwich. LO practically shoved aside the oatmeal in lieu of the sandwich and gobbled it up in record speed. Once his hands were empty though, he cried for more. “It’s all gone,” we tried explaining to him. Nothing seemed to register. Rather than being thrilled at having eaten a favorite snack, he instead showed little thanks once the sandwich was over.

This wasn’t the first time our toddler seemed ungrateful for something that should have brought more joy than cries. I had offered to show him slideshows on my computer and to see some waterfalls which I knew he liked. Both instances ended with him asking for more rather than enjoying the moment that transpired. We have also given him a smoothie only to face more crying when the drink ran out, and we took him to a playground he loved—staying for several hours—just to be thanked with a tantrum when we had to leave.

“Do you think he’s being ungrateful?” I asked my husband later that day. “I don’t feel like doing anything fun or giving him special treats if doing so causes him to throw a fit.”

“I don’t think he’s being ungrateful,” he responded. “He’s just dealing with emotions that we assume as ingratitude.” We thought about potential reasons why our little guy cried instead of relished the treat and came up with the following two:

  • He’s unsatisfied. When he’s having fun at the playground or drinking a smoothie, nothing seems worse than when it all comes to an end. I imagine the same is true for adults: eating a bowl of ice cream just isn’t as great when it’s over as when I’m actually eating it. Except with kids, they don’t always know that things come to an end, or why we have to leave the playground, or that there truly aren’t any smoothies hidden somewhere.
  • He’s unhappy about something else. My toddler also wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with when he threw a tantrum at the playground. He was tired, teething, and for the past several days, wasn’t his normal chipper self. When kids face rough days, any little nudge towards unhappiness takes on a wild ride in itself.

It’s so easy to feel down when kids don’t seem to appreciate the effort and intention we had. After all, when we treat others and surprise them with fun activities, we expect joy, not necessarily a fit of tears. Yet often it’s up to us to thicken our skin and realize that kids aren’t being ungrateful so much as they are disappointed, confused, frustrated, and a slew of other emotions they’re just learning to process. Instead of succumbing to their frustration, my husband and I now help him try to understand a bit more about the world:

  • Give him notices. Even though our toddler probably can’t tell time yet, we help transition him from one activity to the next by letting him know we’ll be doing something different soon. Whether it’s five minutes before leaving the playground, 10 minutes until stepping out of the house, of 15 minutes until bath time, my toddler seems to appreciate knowing that a transition is about to occur and can mentally prepare for it rather than simply whisking him away when it’s time.
  • Entice him with the next activity. If you’re lucky to find something fun in the next activity, highlight that fact to help your child move on from her current activity to the next. For instance, bath time in itself may not sound exciting compared to being able to continue playing in the living, but saying, “Let’s play with the water like the way we played with the puddle earlier at the park today!” may just be what he needs to leave what he’s doing in lieu of what’s next.
  • Plan treats accordingly. With the best of intentions, my husband probably could have waited to give our toddler the peanut butter sandwich after he had already eaten the oatmeal. I imagine the same goes for me should I be given dessert before my main meal. With a full tummy, kids are less likely to want more and instead appreciate the treat they have.
  • Describe and relish the moment. Rather than treating an activity or a treat as something to be consumed, we can help kids appreciate the moment by recounting what’s happening as it’s taking place. For instance, as my toddler drank his smoothie, we could have described its yummy taste, cold temperature and thick texture. When kids focus on the moment, they’re less likely to rush and instead take pleasure as it happens. Talking about the moment can also stretch the time rather than rushing through it.
  • Accept the tantrum. Sometimes kids will just escalate their frustration to a full-blown tantrum, and the best course of action is to simply accept its occurrence and handle the tantrum appropriately.
  • Consider his point of view. The overarching tip I’d like to end with is to always consider the scenario from your child’s point of view. Only in expressing empathy can we begin to understand children’s emotions and determine that he’s not trying to spite us and be ungrateful but rather is simply expressing frustration in the ways that he’s developmentally able to.

As tempted as I was never to take him to the playground again, I knew that withholding fun activities isn’t the best remedy (nor a realistic one). With a bit of timing and preparation, we’ve since been able to continue his favorite activities with less cries and seeming “ingratitude.”

How do you handle your kids when they fuss about a treat that has finished?

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Stop comparing your kid to others

Don't compare your kid to others
I jinxed myself, again. Just as I was writing about how my toddler’s tantrums don’t seem as terrible as in the past, he threw an all-out, can’t-catch-my-breath tantrum in what should have been a fun Saturday at a children’s birthday party. We had to listen to him cry the whole ride home—through traffic, of course—before he eventually calmed down.

All the while, I couldn’t help but think back to the birthday party where I saw his two-year-old cousin (the birthday celebrant) laughing with the family, sharing his toys and accepting gifts from his guests like a gracious host. And here was my toddler, ready to cry if I even so much as got up to grab a cup of water. And sadly I couldn’t help but compare their two very different dispositions.

The close proximity in their ages don’t make comparisons any easier. Only seven months apart, comparisons are bound to happen, whether one likes to dance, the other likes to fiddle with gadgets, and who got their teeth/started to walk/ate solids at what age.

If seven months seem short, one of my friends has a son who is just two weeks younger than my toddler, so you can imagine the comparisons running through my head: “How come LO isn’t into cars and bikes like L?” “L can already jump and is potty trained.” And so forth.

It’s so easy to compare. We compare whether our kids are into the same hobbies as others, what skills other kids have mastered that ours still haven’t (and vice versa), and we even compare their personalities. When I find myself comparing my little guy to others, I remind myself not to do so in a way that would make me doubt his own pace and abilities, because:

  • Every child has his own interests: Just as we adults have our own hobbies and pastimes, so do our kids. Children differ in their interests and will therefore expend effort on those that they enjoy.
  • Every child has his own skills: It’s so easy to forget our kids’ own amazing skills when we compare their shortcomings to others.
  • Every child has his own personality: While I absolutely love my toddler’s personality—his inquisitiveness, quick mind, humor and playfulness—one of the issues I grapple with is his fiery (and loud) temperament. Accepting kids for who they are rather than comparing their temperaments is key.
  • Every child develops at his own pace: While my toddler started walking early at 10 months, he was 21 months before he finally spoke his first words. As SSBE reader Tragic Sandwich wrote in a comment a few weeks ago:

There is a really wide range of normal, and all the weird stuff your baby is going to do fits right in the middle of that range.

Rather than comparing kids only to feel like we’ve failed, maybe we can use comparisons as a way to introduce new skills and interests. For instance, I recently read on a blog about a mom who showed her toddler how to slice a banana. I had never considered this skill, but rather than pressuring my toddler to slice every bunch of banana or worry whether he’s set back because he has yet to slice his own food, I found a plastic knife and showed him how fun slicing one of his favorite fruits can be.

I took the same approach when I heard that one of his playmates can remove his own shoes. Rather than sulk about my toddler’s inability to do the same or push him to perfect this skill in a day, I gradually introduced and practiced with him on how to remove his shoes. So yes, we can notice what other kids are doing and even introduce some of those skills to our kids, but try not to worry or fuss if they don’t catch on right away or have no interest.

Even though my toddler threw a tantrum in front of my husband’s family while his little cousin smiled sweetly and happily, I also have to assume that every parent, no matter the child’s temperament, has dealt with his or her own versions of the worst-tantrum-ever. In the moment, tantrums are embarrassing and draining, but in hindsight, I’m willing to bet that even my toddler’s sweet cousin has had his terrible days as well.

And even if his cousin’s tantrums are nowhere near the caliber my little guy can throw, accepting my toddler for everything that he is will serve us much better and lead to fewer comparisons. Tantrums are terrible, but I can’t imagine trading my toddler’s personality for anyone else.

And his shoes? He can now remove them all on his own.

How do you keep yourself from comparing your kids to others? Have you used comparisons in a positive way, e.g. as a way to introduce new skills?

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Why older kids aren’t always easier

Why older kids aren't always easier
How many times have you been frustrated with your kid and said to yourself, “If only he was a little older”?
I remember wondering during the early days just when exactly this parenting thing gets easier. “Three months—that’s when they’re finished with the fourth trimester,” I often heard. “Life starts to feel normal again at about one-year-old,” a coworker said. And to my horror, my brother responded, “Definitely not until three-years-old—that’s when it’s really easy.”

Three years old?! I have to wait for my little guy to reach three-years-old before I can resume my life again?

As my baby eventually grew and reached those supposedly easier milestones, I still found myself saying, “If only he were a little bit older, we wouldn’t have this problem.” Whether it was having to cradle his head in the first few months before he could hold it up on its own, I thought, “If he was three or four months old, I would have a free hand when carrying him.” When he still had to be carried in a car seat to and from the car, I wished, “If only he could walk, I wouldn’t have to carry all these heavy bags plus the car seat.”

And my recent wishing on a star: “If only he were four-years-old, he wouldn’t be throwing these tantrums.” (All you parents with four-year-olds, please let me live blissfully in ignorance for the time being).

Before I come off as a whiny, ungrateful mom, I’m willing to defend myself and assert that this wishful thinking isn’t completely abnormal. For instance:

  • It’s true. Almost everything I wish for comes true—my toddler’s ability to walk on his own has tremendously made transporting him so much easier. And not having to cradle an infant’s head gave me an extra free hand.
  • It’s frustrating. If there’s any job out there that ought to have the freedom to vent as often and as much as they want, it’s parenting. You can’t help but feel for the mom who longs for the day when her kid is finally talking or doesn’t need his food pureed to a pulp.

Even with all those reasons to wish for the day when our kids are older, parenting also doesn’t get easier. Sometimes I forget this, considering that I envy my sister for the ability take a nap whenever she want to because her teenage son doesn’t exactly need his mama to watch over him anymore. But I remind myself that wishing for my toddler to grow up—while absolutely normal—doesn’t solve everything:

  • New problems always arise. When my little guy was a baby, I knew tantrums loomed nearby, but when he’s waking up four times a night and cries every second he’s in the car seat, tantrums seemed eons away, and really, are they that bad compared to my current situation? Unfortunately, age doesn’t erase problems, so much so that as I sit here whining about tantrums, I realize I still don’t have to deal with how he’ll make friends at school or what shenanigans he’ll get into as a teenager.
  • Wishing for the future can take away from relishing in the moment. As much as I complain about whatever current demise I may have, I try to think about something I love about my toddler that’s specific to his age and stage. For instance, during one of the nights when we were still waking up multiple times to feed him, I held him up to burp and delighted in his smallness, wrapped up in his little swaddle, as he lay on my shoulder like a little blob.

When all I can think about is when my toddler finally turns 5, 12 or 18, I turn to these methods to keep me grounded:

  • Find ways to alleviate the problem. Whenever a parenting challenging presents itself, I do my research, talk to my husband, and try to find solutions so that I won’t be so inundated with too many burdens. For instance, when my toddler threw a fiasco and hysterically tried to flee the bathtub, we tried to find different ways to goad him back into the water.
  • Relish the moment. Maybe savoring a tantrum isn’t exactly the most pleasant experience, but perhaps we can try to appreciate other, less-stressful aspects of our kids that will likely disappear in a blink. When my toddler was still speaking with incorrect grammar, I tried to remember how cute he was when he says “to going grandma’s house.”
  • Reminisce with old photos. Nothing makes you go, “Awww…!” more than a cute photo of your kid from a few months ago. When I look through my toddler’s photos, all of those supposedly terrible experiences I experienced with him at that age melted away with that chubby smile or not-so-there hair. I realize how quickly time passes and how much he grows.
  • Try to remember those past terrible experiences. When I try to recall how difficult the first year with my infant was, I admit that I can’t think of too many, despite my claims that they were the most challenging months. While bad days seem like the worst at the moment, given some time, their arduousness tends to fade away. Selective memory, anyone?
  • Accept that it’s difficult. Sometimes simply accepting the ensuing stress is enough to put me at ease. Rather than wish for better times or deny the difficulty I face, I tell myself that this is how it is right now. I can only change what I can, and unfortunately kids’ behavioral development has its own agenda very different from mine.

Yesterday was an “If only he was older…” day. My toddler complained about every little thing. He wouldn’t even let me clip his fingernails, something he has never given me trouble for. But today… today was one of those days where my heart was bursting. My toddler was the perfect kid: happy, compliant, thoughtful, generous. And at the day’s end, I took a mental picture of all that transpired, so that when that “other” day rolls around, I’ll know that my toddler isn’t always so challenging, and that he’s perfectly fine at two-and-a-half years old.

When have you found yourself wishing “If only my child was a little bit older…”? Have you noticed whether your child’s current age is easier or just as difficult as the past?

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SSBE’s quick guide to handling tantrums (infographic)

SSBE_quick-guide-handling-tantrums
Even though my toddler’s tantrums don’t seem to be going anywhere just yet (please tell me there’s no such thing as “The Terrible Three’s”), they have been much quicker and dealt with more effectively than when they first made their grand entrance. I still remember the first few tantrums—some of them lasting over an hour—and feeling completely helpless. Nothing seemed to work. I tried soothing him to no avail. Completely ignoring him didn’t do the trick, either. And we seemed to leave every outing or party carrying a wailing toddler in our arms, trying to strap him in the car seat and make our quick getaway.

Nowadays, while our weeks and months are peppered with tantrums here and there, most end in about five minutes and don’t seem as terrible. One of the reasons is his age: he’s growing up, and with that comes better communication skills, more understanding of his emotions, and a developing brain putting all this together. He’s also learning what tantrums are and knows that even though they’re normal, they also won’t lead to any attention or get him anything he wants.

Another reason his tantrums have lessened in intensity, duration and frequency may be because of us—his parents. Having “done our time” in the trenches of tantrums, we’ve had quite a bit of experience with handling one whenever one should pop up. I started thinking about what exactly we do whenever our toddler throws a tantrum and realized that we’ve been relying on a process or pattern that seems to keep them at a minimum. So I did a bit of scribbling here, some laying out there, and came up with:

Sleeping Should Be Easy’s Quick Guide to Handling Tantrums — ta-da!
Download the FREE guide: JPG | PDF

Every child is of course different so this guide is by no means a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution, but the process outlined here has helped our toddler cope with the madness often found during these lovely tantrums. For instance, in the past, we found that removing him from the situation—even simply stepping to another room—was enough to calm him down whereas attempting to temper his frustration right then and there made him angrier.

In reading The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (which I reviewed in this post), I also began to empathize first before trying to even reason with him. He seemed more compliant when he knew we were still “on his side.” And more importantly, I learned that often times, not talking or paying attention to him quickened the duration of the tantrums drastically. Disciplining, reasoning, and even consoling him with words seemed to exacerbate the tantrum.

I may just be jinxing myself again here and end up with another uncontrollable tantrum the minute this post is published, but generally I’ve been happy with the way we’ve handled his recent outbursts. Hopefully you’ll find the guide just as useful should you ever find yourself with an inconsolable toddler in the midst of another challenging tantrum.

Do you have a process for dealing with tantrums? Have you tried following the suggestions outlined in this guide and found them useful for your child? How does your child react to soothing, talking and other methods of calming down during a tantrum?

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Are you sharing too much of your kids online?

Are you sharing too much of your kids online?
I came across an article from The Wall Street Journal titled The Facebook-Free Baby—Are you a mom or dad who’s guilty of ‘oversharenting’? The cure may be to not share at all. Author Steven Leckart discusses the circumstances leading to parents sharing everything about their kids online, as well as potential repercussions for doing so.

We post about our kids for several reasons:

  • We like to update our friends and families about our kids, from first baby pictures to a recording of their Christmas recital. Particularly for parents who live far from families, social networking sites like Facebook are the primary means relatives can catch a glimpse of the little ones.
  • Parenthood can be lonely. Taking photos, writing blogs and posting on mom boards offer parents a chance to fill the day. Parents with no close physical ties to other parents can also turn to the online community for support and camaraderie.
  • Kids are just so darn cute. We’re proud of them. We love their jokes. And we want our friends and family to know how ridiculously amazing they are.
  • We actually want a digital record online. With technology at our fingertips, sharing on Facebook or blogs actually serves an easy way to record and retrieve memories and milestones.

Amidst all these reasons, the author isn’t as concerned with why we share, but the consequences of doing so. He writes:

[…] the more of our lives we put online from the beginning, the more there is to contend with later on.

Publicizing our kids has been done in the past, but the internet age poses something new: a chronological order of everything you post, so much so that children born these days will have a public, digital record of their lives.

While most of our posts and pictures are harmless, there may be some instances that could present a problem for kids in their future. Photos are public, available for anyone to use for whatever purposes they want. The public record of our kids may be used against them as adults. I also worry about safety, and wonder whether providing too much information will invite unwanted attention.

I try to find a balance. On Facebook, I post a few photos and blurbs about my toddler and adjusted my settings accordingly. Even though I don’t have many friends on Facebook to begin with, I still set my privacy setting to narrow down the “circle of friends” who can view the pictures. I’ve also posted funny blurbs about my toddler, but each time I do, I ask myself whether doing so can embarrass, harm or cause problems for him in the future. If it could, then I don’t share.

However, all this may seem ridiculously hypocritical coming from a blogger whose entire site stars my supposedly private toddler. This blog highlights many aspects of his life and includes details of normally private scenarios (ahem: anything to do with bowel movements). How do I meld my desire to minimize his online presence with posts about him on the internet for all to read?

These were the questions I grappled with when I initially launched Sleeping Should Be Easy. For nearly two years, I wrote the blog for family and friends and kept the settings private so that only a few people could access the site. Even with the privacy settings turned on and names and photos omitted, I wondered whether I was still sharing too much and why I was turning to the internet to share his stories to begin with. Would my toddler come back as a 25-year-old and regret that his mom had posted XY and Z about him for all to read?

Clearly, I have since publicized the site to extend beyond family and friends. I wanted to create a balance that allowed me the privacy I sought while creating a site that could help other parents and offer me a way to document my own growth as a parent. I decided not to post too many photos of him on the blog, and for the few that exist, all are obscured or show only a hand or the back of his head. I’ve also omitted his name and rely on the ever-so-original pseudonym of “LO” instead. And while I provide general information about him, I make sure they remain vague enough as well.

I’ve also been more mindful of how I present my toddler. I’m comfortable sharing less-than-pleasant behavior such as tantrums and potty training because these topics seem typical enough for any toddler to share and wouldn’t necessarily vilify him in his later years. On the other hand, you may recall a post I wrote describing how I had written an amazing, thought-provoking post but ended up deleting the entire thing for fear that I would stigmatize my toddler by labeling him too much.  The label itself wasn’t negative, but I was afraid that blasting it out to the world might unfairly categorize him too early and limit his potential.

So far, this balance has been the happy medium that works for me. For the author of the WSJ article, complete anonymity and no photos of his kid online are preferred. For others, “oversharenting” may not even be an issue at all. We all do what works for us. Given the wide range of comfort levels, beliefs and parenting methods we all have, I’m not surprised that there remains no clear cut guideline as to how much is too much and which method is “right.”

How about you—how much of your kids do you share online? What swayed your decision whether or not to post photos, names or moments of your kids on social network sites or blogs?

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