Reader John Doe writes:
Isn’t it true that 5-year]-olds, by their nature, are self-absorbed and unappreciative? Obviously, there are degrees, but is it correct that we should not expect them to be thankful for things that an adult would be thankful for?
For example, at great expense and time yesterday we took my daughter snow tubing. She loved it, but right after she was complaining about something else. This drives my wife crazy as she thinks she is unappreciative and we are raising her wrong. I agree that we need to try to squash this, BUT, I also think that this is the way preschoolers are by nature.
Dear John Doe,
Yeah, you’re right. Kids don’t have a split screen in their brains where they see your childhood, where you ate Frosted Flakes in front of the TV, juxtaposed against their own magical childhood of wondrous child-centered activities. They also don’t have a long attention span. So, snow tubing is great, and then after that, if they don’t have chicken nuggets instead of hamburgers, they will bitch and moan. Que sera, sera. That is the price you pay for getting motivated to snow tube instead of plunking them down with the Frosted Flakes and cartoons.
If your wife really is upset about this, tell her to focus on doing gratitude exercises with your kids, like every day at dinner everyone says what he or she is grateful for. (Some other happiness exercises that also help make your kid a less horrible person are here.) Then she can feel good about focusing on gratitude and will be less upset by your kids’ selfish, but kidlike nature. Or else she could say, “If I hear one more word out of you, you’re never going snow tubing again.” I hear that works too, not of course from personal experience or anything. (Not that I snow tube, give me a break. I have three kids under age 5. I mean basically anything, ever, that I do with my kids. You could also do a sticker chart for complaining where if you get five stickers, you don’t get to watch TV that night. We did that for a couple of nights with my oldest till I started complaining about having to monitor her goddamn complaining.)
Overall, your wife sounds like she is idealizing her own childhood. She probably whined as a 5-year-old too. And if she didn’t, it was likely because her parents didn’t tolerate it, but she still complained inside her 5-year-old mind. A lot of parents nowadays are all into empathizing with and validating their kids, which is awesome, but don’t forget that this doesn’t mean you have to stop teaching them to be nice. Here’s a post on how to deal with a kid’s difficult behavior without invalidating her. In this case, you could say, “I understand that the chicken nuggets are a big deal to you, but it hurts my feelings when you complain about something right after I do something nice for you. Next time, maybe you say thank you more for the snow tubing, or choose just to eat the hamburger in order to be polite.” It won’t sink in now, but over the next couple of years, it might.
Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Thinks Parenting Is Not Easy.