Spoiling, Part II
Spoiling, Part II
In the last two columns, we looked at new ways to deal with the problems connected with taking a toddler shopping with us. But the issue of spoiling arises in a myriad of situations on a daily basis. I hesitate to quote another author at length, yet Penelope Leach describes the problem and the solution in such clear and compassionate terms that I must share her words with you. These are from Your Baby and Child from Birth to Age Five:
“Your child’s developmental clock….does not yet read ‘childhood’, so attempts to discipline him as you discipline a child will not work either. You will be faced with a lack of comprehension that looks like defiance, and every battle you join will end with love lost. So don’t try for absolute control and don’t join moral battles. Your toddler will be ‘good’ if he feels like doing what you happen to want him to do and does not happen to feel like doing anything you would dislike. With a little cleverness you can organize life as a whole, and issues in particular, so that you both want the same thing most of the time. Your toddler has his bricks all over the floor and you want the room tidy. If you tell him to pick them up, he will probably refuse. If you insist, a fight will be on and you cannot win it. You can scream at him, punish him, reduce him to a jelly of misery but none of that will get those bricks off the floor. But if you say, ‘I bet you can’t put those bricks in their bag before I’ve peeled these potatoes’, you turn the whole issue into a game. Now he wants to do what you want him to do, so he will. He did not do it ‘for Mummy’; he did not do it because he is a ‘good boy’. He did it because you made him want to. And that is the trick. You conduct his life by foreseeing the rocks and steering around them, avoiding absolute orders that will be absolutely refused, leading and guiding the toddler into behaving as you want him to behave because nothing has made him want to behave otherwise.”
The payoff now is fun instead of strife for you all. But the playoff later is even more important. This toddler, who does not know right from wrong and cannot choose to behave well or badly, is growing up. The time will come when he does understand your rights; does remember your instructions and foresee the results of his actions. When that time comes he will be able to be ‘good’ or ‘naughty’ on purpose. Which he chooses will depend largely on how he feels about you. If he reaches that next stage of growing up feeling that you are basically loving, approving and on his side, he will want (most of the time) to please you. If he reaches that next state of growing up feeling that you are overpowering, incomprehensible and against him, he may have decided that it is no use trying to please you because you are never pleased; no use minding when you are cross because you are cross so often, and too dangerous to let himself love you because you have so often seemed not to love him. If he reaches preschool age not wanting approval, not feeling cooperative, not confident that he loves and is loved, you will have lost the whole basis for good and easy ‘discipline’ right through childhood. At this age, a happy child is an easy child and a child kept easy now will be easy to handle later.” (emphasis mine).
The irony is that this approach to parenting seems more difficult and time-consuming, but in actual fact, it is faster and for sure more fun to come up with games than to engage in power struggles. And the results make parenting easier all the way through the teens. And I highly recommend Ms. Leach’s book, for it has many other workable maxims like this one.
Next issue: The problems of discipline.