Some kids are just more emotional than others. Sometimes kids don’t need you to make them feel better… sometimes you just gotta wait them out.
The day started like any other…
It was time for us to do some chores. Fold some towels. Put away our clothes from the laundry room. Two of the kids were cooperating, and one was stalling, whining, and distracting everyone else. Wailing, crying, gnashing of teeth.
I put my son in his room (with the door open) and said that when he finished folding his towels and putting away his clothes (in a laundry basket like this video shows) he could come out. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t mean. I wasn’t “punishing” him, I just needed him to do his chores.
The other two kids folded their towels. My 4-year-old folded the bath towels and my 2-year-old folded dish and hand towels. We put away clothes, and they were off playing quietly together.
My other son sat in the doorway of his room and pitched a fit.
“It’ll take too long…”
“It’s too hard…”
“I don’t know how…”
Except it only takes 3 minutes, it isn’t that hard, and he’s known how to do it for over a year.
For 30 minutes he went on and on with every excuse under the sun and more and flailing and imaginary woundings and injuries. I was genuinely impressed with his creative ability to distract himself from the task at hand. In fact, he figured out how to make an airplane out of ones like these at one point.
Then… all of a sudden… he worked hard for 5 minutes. He perfectly folded the towels. He put away all his clothes in their appropriate drawers, and even gave his room a quick tidy. He came out happily, I greeted him happily, and he even volunteered to help me do more chores right then and there.
I’m not even kidding.
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
Sometimes you just gotta wait ’em out…
But when should we and when shouldn’t we wait them out? Well, it’ll depend on the child, the situation, and whether we’re just trying to “win” or whether it’s truly an important lesson.
Is this about winning?
Certain personalities (ahem, mine) like to be right. Confident + Take Charge and Strong + Deliberate mamas, I’m talking to you. This isn’t always bad because we fight for what we believe, but it can be a problem in parenting if we’re always trying to “win” a situation.
Sometimes we just gotta wait out our kids, but if we can tell it’s gotten personal… we should stop and re-evaluate. If we are healthily detached from the situation and just want our children to learn an important and valuable lesson, good. If we just want to show them we are more stubborn and can hold out longer… not as good.
Is it an ongoing no-good-very-bad behavior?
If your child is consistently disobeying you and doing something inappropriate, dangerous, or just plain old mean… you may have to persevere with your consequences and wait them out. If you haven’t been consistent previously they won’t take kindly to losing a freedom.
But if you know, deep down, they are doing (or not doing) something that is truly important, you may just have to dig your heels in and be consistent until both you and your child have a breakthrough. Being consistent and waiting out your child in a particular area is not against them, it’s for them.
You’re not being mean, you’re being consistent.
Do you know they are testing the boundaries?
I have two children who will only stall and throw a fit for an obvious cause. When they see reason, they stop and move on. I have another who will always find a reason not to do what I’ve asked. There is frequently an answer, cry, or whine in response to a request. While I’m tempted to give in and allow many shortcuts with him – I dislike conflict in the home during our days – I know that will not serve him in his future.
He has the potential to be a strong, passionate man in our world, and because of that, I want him to have certain character attributes, the ability to work hard being one of them. He continually tests whether we will enforce our family rules and, in most cases, we do.
If they are testing you, pass it.
Is it clearly behavioral?
There’s a difference in a tantrum and a meltdown. A tantrum is usually thrown for a purpose. For example, to not have to do something. Or to get something. Or to go somewhere. A meltdown, on the other hand, is a symptom of emotional overload. There’s nothing you can give or do that’ll make it go away immediately. That’s how you know it’s more than just a reaction to something they don’t like.
We’ll handle tantrums and meltdowns differently because a meltdown is not “bad behavior.” It’s a very strong emotional response. A tantrum is a child’s way of getting something. In this case, we may have to wait them out. Actually, you may need to wait out a meltdown too. Stepping in all the time while our children are mid-emotional-explosion-response is not only not helpful, it interrupts the whole process.
Is it just a different tack?
Many positive parenting advocates and mothers are anti-timeout. Instead of separating or isolating a person they are in favor of talking it out, hugging it out, and getting to the root of the matter at hand. These things are excellent. But, if you find yourself constantly talking about the same things over and over or frequently having “sit down talks” that don’t change anything but quickly turn into ineffective lectures, maybe you can try a different tack.
You don’t always have to make your child feel better. It’s okay if you don’t immediately stop what you’re doing to try and diffuse a whining tantrum. In fact, doing something different may just get your child’s attention.
My former colleague told it like this.
His son had done something very mean-spirited and hurtful to his sibling. They had a talk, gave a consequence, and asked him to apologize.
He refused to apologize and said he would not do it. Even though he’d clearly done something wrong with no provocation. They told him to sit on the stairs until he could say sorry.
Minutes turned to hours. Morning turned into afternoon. They even had to call in someone to watch their child because they decided, he’d lose the privilege to go out with them unless he’d apologized. Sometimes you just give in, but he said they just knew, deep down, this was one of those moments they had to stick it out.
Finally, before bedtime, it happened. They sat down and asked him, “Honey, are you sorry?” He looked at them in the eyes and gave a genuine head nod. He acknowledged his wrong, they all had a family bonding moment, and life went on. In fact, their bond strengthened.
Sometimes… every so often… you just gotta wait ’em out…