I had a client this week ask how to handle a child who requested a popsicle for breakfast and then had a total meltdown when he was told no. Tough one! We get so easily thrown as parents when our kids ask (demand!) something that they know we are going to say no to. Have we ever said yes to a popsicle for breakfast? No! So why would they even think to ask? When they do ask, does that produce a pretty strong reaction in you? It does in me. Somehow it feels disrespectful—like a direct hit. That feeling of not being respected requires a big count-in-count-out kind of breath to hold me in check.
What taking the deep breath does for me is to give me enough time to remember that if I am feeling the direct hit, the child probably wanted my immediate and direct reaction—even if it was a negative response. Bing, bing, bing! That’s the clue right there that this REALLY ISN’T ABOUT A POPSICLE! It is almost certainly a bid for attention—which is to say a bid for connection.
Think about it. Mornings can get so hectic and be so go, go, go. If we have been driven by the almighty Get-Out-the-Door-on-Time Agenda, we might have forgotten to sweetly and lovingly reconnect with our child. Even though kids have been peacefully asleep the whole night—even if they have been right there in bed next to you—that can feel like they have been away from you for a really long time. Now, instead of snuggling and checking with them, you jump out of bed, ready to roar through your day.
To add insult to injury, the child knows he is about to go to childcare or preschool—more time away from you! If he does not get your attention NOW, he is going to have to go through the whole day with the uneasy feeling of not having the assurance of your connection.
Possibly, if you had a video camera recording the whole morning, you would see that he had made two or three previous attempts to invite you to play or to look at something (his positive ways of asking for your attention), but you brushed him off or placated him momentarily with a vague acknowledgement of what he wanted you to look at.
Not getting what he needed, your child ups the ante. Asking for something in direct violation of a stated or assumed rule is BOUND to get your attention. Your anger, even, but at least you are fully focused on him now.
So, how do you hold the limit and still prevent the tantrum? Give your child what he really needs—your eyes on him, your face turned towards him, maybe even your hands on his shoulders. Can you enter his excitement? It might look like this: A popsicle?! Wow, yes! That really does sound good! Wouldn’t it be lovely if popsicles were breakfast food?! I would love a popsicle right now! And at the same time, today the breakfast choices are oatmeal or cold cereal.
In responding this way, you enter into the child’s desire and his excitement around the idea of a lovely, cool, sweet popsicle. Maybe you have even crouched down and shone smilingly into his eyes—just for those few moments—before redirecting him to a more nutritious breakfast. With luck, pausing to mutually imagine the delight that popsicles are is enough to make him feel like you and he are on the same team again. He now feels seen and heard and is ready to go about his day with a lightness.
Maybe even you have benefitted from pausing the morning plan for just that brief moment to contemplate something yummy and good. Maybe you feel lighter are more ready to tackle the day. What a blessing our children can be!!
p.s. Can you ever make an exception and just say yes to the popsicle? Sure! Maybe one in every twenty times for an average child? That is enough time to set the rule and to make it clear that today is an exception. If you have a strong-willed child (lucky you!), it might be safer to break the rule closer to one in every 40 times. But life is sweet, and it is okay from time to time to stop and smell the roses (or break the no sweets until after dinner rule).
Do you have any funny stories about a child demanding something when he absolutely knows he is not going to get it? Share them HERE