by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., High Regard Parent Coach
A friend with a new baby called me recently saying her friends were telling her to ignore her 3 month old baby when she put him to bed and he cried. It felt wrong to her to let him cry and cry without going in to check on him or comfort him. She was right!
All the experts agree– you can’t “spoil” a baby by being too responsive. But you can spoil a toddler, young child (or teen!) by giving in to their every demand. It helps to be compassionate with them when they’re frustrated, upset, or emotionally overwhelmed. But you do them no favors when you react as though their every whim is your command.
It’s important to have boundaries and limits. For example, unless you want your child to become a fussy eater with a narrow diet, don’t feed them completely different, on-demand meals. Present them with a variety of foods, at least some of which they are likely to enjoy. Don’t worry whether they eat it or not. They go through stages in which different smells and textures seem unpalatable.
Don’t worry that they will starve! It really is a mistake to start feeding them whatever they demand to eat whenever they request it. You will not be doing your best job as a parent or caregiver if you follow that too-common approach.
If you’re like me, you will feel some impulses to save your child from their unpleasant feelings. You likely want to save yourself from any potential impending tantrums, too. But one of the reasons so many children tantrum as toddlers, and continue to be whiny and demanding as young children (and immature teens and adults!) is that they fail to have the opportunities to develop the ability to manage frustrations.
It’s okay that your child sometimes experiences unpleasant emotions, such as sadness, frustration, and anger. It’s all part of being human. It’s not necessary– or even possible– for a person to be happy at every moment. Everyone needs to learn to cope with frustration if they’re going to become happy, successful people in the world. The only way to learn is to practice.
Don’t allow yourself to feel responsible for saving your child from unpleasant feelings like frustration. Keep in mind that it is your job as a parent to help them mature into healthy human beings, not to keep them constantly appeased. The people who live fulfilling lives, no matter what happens in the course of life, are the people who develop the skills and habits for living a fulfilling life. That includes the skills for managing a variety of experiences and emotions, including unpleasant emotions.
Help your child develop emotional self-management skills, and avoid spoiling them, by letting them experience difficult feelings and practice coping with them. Don’t worry that your toddler or young child isn’t very good at this– it takes time to develop these skills.
My book about toddlers is available on Amazon in Kindle or paperback. If you purchase the paperback through Ginny Trierweiler Consulting, I will send you an autographed copy.