This post is not the way I wanted to start off the New Year, but alas, I’m sure getting yelled at by his dad wasn’t the way the little boy I saw at the park wanted to start of his New Year’s either. In fact, I’m sure the Dad who was doing the yelling was himself hoping to start of the new year with a lovely walk with his family on a particularly gorgeous, warm, clear Los Angeles day. He wasn’t out to be a dick. But things don’t always go as planned.
You see, I was walking my dog back home when I saw this mom pick up her toddler. Ahead of her was her husband. Behind her was her other son, who was likely four. Just then, the four-year-old stopped and let out a loud, guttural “Ahhhh!”
“No screaming!” his mom screamed back at him.
And that’s when his Dad jumped in and added “If you scream again, you’re going to be in trouble.”
(While this is besides my point, I have to rhetorically ask: Wasn’t one parent telling him not to scream enough? And if you can’t scream amongst the redwoods in the largest city park in the country, where the fuck are you supposed to scream?)
I can tell you this.
It was hot.
The kid was in a long sleeve black sweatshirt and long pants.
And based on where we were, they’d likely been walking at least a little while which to a four-year-old can seem like a long while. And some of it was uphill.
So all of that says to me that perhaps the little boy was screaming because he may have been hot or tired or wanted some of his mom’s attention that his little brother was getting. Or all three. Or something else. Whatever it was, when a child lets out a scream, it means something. Something like, I’m uncomfortable. Help me.
Which brings me to one of the roughest Catch 22′s of being a kid:
Little ones are not particularly adept at assessing their own needs and then conveying them to their parents in a way that will help them get those needs met. In fact, they often do it in ways that will land them in “trouble.” Things like: screaming, hitting, spitting, stomping their feet, calling people names, starting a fight, and complaining—you know the usual stuff that drives parents so crazy that they then— in their clumsy attempts to meet their own need for some peace and order— threaten their children with being “in trouble.”
Now for this Dad in particular, I don’t know what his “in trouble” was referring to. Perhaps he meant that he’d give his son a time out, or would yell at him some more, or give him the cold shoulder or no dessert or a spanking or take a toy away when he got home. Whatever it was it would be something to put his son in trouble, what Webster’s calls “a state of distress”.
Just what he needs!
A kid in a state of distress acts out (as in does something adults don’t like) to indicate he’s in a state of distress which puts his parents in a state of distress so they threaten to put him in another state of distress if he doesn’t stop acting distressed.
How about: “Honey, you’re screaming. You sound upset. Is something wrong?”
And if the child was hot, his dad or mom could offer to take his sweatshirt.
If he seemed jealous of his younger brother, a parent could offer to hold his hand.
If he seemed tired, they could have asked him if he wanted to stop and take a break.
(And as a side note, doesn’t “in trouble” sound so dated to you? So 1970′s? I mean really, who wants to spend their childhood either being in trouble or out of trouble?)
Isn’t it so much better to just meet a child in a state of distress with some interest, some compassion and some assistance rather than meeting a state of distress with a threat of another state of distress?
How about deleting IN TROUBLE from your parenting lexicon for 2012?
Here’s to an in-troubleless 2012!