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Train Your Child to be Unhappy

A Happy Sher Bear
Did you know that you can train your child to be unhappy?  Yup.

I saw this post on BlogHer this morning, and I gotta say, I really take issue with the whole assumption behind the post.

Now I don't know if the link above will work for you or not, so, here's a quick synopsis:  The mom writing has a three-year-old and is pregnant with her second child.  Like most parents, they went all out on the first kid, including getting a 3D ultrasound from one of those private companies (not doctor prescribed).  All of which I have no problem with.

Now she is realizing that, while she really excited about the second child, she doesn't feel the need to get the whoop-dee-do ultrasound for $200 this time.

Her question is, and I quote:  Will my January baby someday feel slighted (or even unwanted) because we skipped the fancy ultrasound?  Is it unfair of us to not give the same gift to our January baby that we gave to Gracie (a DVD of her in utero)?

In response, people have written in about their experiences as a child with not getting equal treatment as their siblings.  And on the whole, it's split about 50/50 as to whether they were upset about it or not.

I think they all miss the point.

Is the point of parenting to make certain that your child is happy?  

Not that we wouldn't all want our children to be happy.  Of course we do!!  But is that something that we can achieve by making certain everything is fair?

Say it with me:  Life isn't fair.

It occurs to me that the happiest people I know are not the ones who get things their way all the time.  No, they are the people who have learned to roll with it.  They understand that life has its ups and downs, and they don't get all bent out of shape when things don't go like they expected.

Just looking at the responses to the blog post - everyone who responded was writing about a time when things were not equal between them and their siblings.  Yet half of them chose to assume that one must be upset about such injustice, and the other half didn't think it was a big deal.  Any bets as to which half is happier on the whole?

So how does this play out in our day-in, day-out parenting?  I find scripts to be helpful tools.  So here are two scripts.  In this first script, the parent is training their child to use unhappiness to try to motivate themselves and others in their life.  The parent has the best intentions, but they are not able with this method to achieve the happy child that they were after.

Kid:  Mom!  Sister got a better doll than me.  That's not fair.

Mom:  Your doll is nice.  (Trying to convince child they are wrong, and it is fair.)

Kid:  No, it's not.  It's stupid.  Hers is bigger and has fancier clothes.

Mom:  Well, it was her birthday.  Maybe you'll get a bigger, fancier doll on your birthday.  (Agreeing that it wasn't fair, and should be.  But encouraging her to wait.)

Kid:  I want a nice doll now!  (Whines, stomps foot, pouts.)

Mom:  (Convinced that child is unhappy, and wanting to "fix" it.)  How about we go and order a new one for you?  

Kid:  (Smiling.)  Okay!!  Thanks, Mom!!

Can you see in the above example how this child now knows that being unhappy will get them what they want?  Next time they want something (give them a few minutes!) they will try being unhappy again.  Meanwhile, Mom is believing that child is happy now, and that she's done her job by "making" the child happy.

Now let's try an example of Mom not training her child to be unhappy.

Kid:  Mom!  Sister got a better doll than me.  That's not fair.

Mom:  Yup, she did.  (Not denying reality.)

Kid:  I want a nice doll!  (Stomps foot, whines, pouts.)

Mom:  Don't you stomp your foot at me.  If you want something, use a nice voice.

Kid:  Mom? (turns on the charm)  May I please have a nice doll like sister's?  (Smiles a fake happy smile.)

Mom:  Thank you for asking in your nice voice.  Sure.  If you want to save your allowance, I'd be happy to help you buy that doll.

Kid:  That's not fair!!  I want a nice doll, now!!  (Tries stomping and whining again.)

Mom:  Please go to your room.  That is not the way we behave in this house.  

Kid:  (Growling on their way.)

After a short while, Mom goes to Kid's room.

Mom:  Are you ready to come out and be happy?

Kid:  Yes, Ma'am.  (Not looking super happy, but no longer angry.)

In this scenario, it's harder for Mom to feel like she's done "a good job" in helping her child to be happier.  But in the long run, this kid will choose to be happy or not - but they will know that being unhappy does not work to motivate Mom.

Perhaps, if the doll was really something that they wanted, they will save up and get the doll.  But the doll is not the important thing - the heart is.  

I find myself shaking my head at the whole idea of some one thinking about spending $200 they wouldn't otherwise spend, just in case a child, who isn't born yet, might decide to feel offended at some point in the future.  I don't want to spend my years as a mom walking on those kind of eggshells.

So can we get rid of that should:  Everything SHOULD be fair and equal among siblings?  

I have.

(For more information about Happy Parenting, please check out www.option.org - that's where I learned it.)

Wish you were here!


Anonymous said...

Great Post! I think the best thing a parent can do is not panic about 'fair'. All in all it really does come back around. Each child will have a turn a perceived 'better' experience or possession. A note to parents - it is hard to be around families where 'fair' is king of the house. How do we bring over a small gift? A small jesture? Do we have to include everyone so that it is fair? We'd rather not get mom upset or the kids upset. Outsiders can see when fear of unhappy motivates the fair idea. Fair is selfish - prideful - unkind. When will they learn to give in abundance to others?

Dakota said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

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