Josephine Lam, 34, settled for the latter. Just last week, the logistics marketing executive in a company spent most of a coffeeshop dinner with her husband and in-laws trying to pacify her 2½-year-old son, Timothy, because he whining for his pacifier, which had been left at home.
“It was very embarrassing,” she admits. “Some customers were giving us dirty looks, so we ended dinner quickly and went home. I was very frustrated because short of giving in to my child’s demands, there was nothing else I could do.”
It wasn’t the first time her son had resorted to begging to get his way. Nor was it the first time Lam gave in to her son’s demands ― previously, when she had tried to ignore his pleas for his favourite biscuits, he persisted for nearly an hour.
"Show that you are busy and will not indulge in the request, so junior starts to understand that they have lost all power in the situation."
“My boy is cared for by my in-laws when my husband and I are at work, so I knew they sometimes gave him whatever he wanted. He’s grown to understand that begging will get him anything, especially with his grandparents. I spanked him several times but it didn’t work so, yes, I have given in, too,” says, Lam, who is six months pregnant with her second child.
She adds, “I hear that kids grow out of the habit of begging by the age of 8 or 9, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed and trying to keep calm. My greatest worry is that he might grow up selfish and spoilt because I want him to be a role model for my younger child.”
It’s normal for a child to beg
Begging allows a child to focus on getting the things she wants, notes Katy Harris, a child behavioural therapist at Family SOS. “By repeating her request, it helps the child gain attention and reinforces her reluctance to let go of these things.”
It’s all about instant gratification. Unlike adults, kids between the ages of 3 and 5 have not learnt to wait to fulfil their wants. And since their communicative abilities aren’t developed yet, they can’t convey their frustration properly. So, they resort to an expression of emotion, such as tears or tantrums, to push and even change the boundaries, Harris adds.
Learn how to manage your tot’s begging
1. First, teach your kids delayed gratification. “As parents, we want our kids to know that while we understand they feel disappointed and frustrated [at not being able to fulfil their desires], they have to [accept the circumstances and] move on,” Harris explains.
2. Tune out your child’s begging. Show that you are busy and will not indulge in the request, Harris suggests, so junior starts to understand that they have lost all power in the situation. Although hearing all that whining can be hard, you’ll need to show that you are prepared to ignore them. This way, they will gradually understand how their behaviour can affect others.
Tips on saying “no”
3. Set out a plan clearly
If you decide to buy a toy only for your child’s birthday next month (instead of today), tell them so. Reinforce this agreement by drawing a picture or writing a note together on the calendar as a reminder.
4. Make it inconvenient
If your offspring persists, have her sit in a chair apart from the rest of the family. State that as long as she continues showing such behaviour, she will be seated here. When you show that you are prepared to withdraw from their pleading and whining, this lets them decide (and learn) whether begging is still better than having fun with others.
5. Negotiate an alternative
“Settling for less is an important part of learning,” Katy points out. If you decide to buy a smaller set of bricks because your child already has several similar playthings, suggest that the new bricks are more fun to play with. They are more willing to think more rationally if you are empathic ― tell them “I know you love these, darling” instead of being confrontational.
6. Stop them from begging immediately with these questions
Knowing that they can’t have the things they want will not stop kids from begging. Harris advises that you get them to convey their anger using sentences such as, “I don’t like it when I can’t have what I want”.
By helping the youngsters identify their source of unhappiness, parents can formulate and offer the appropriate response. One example is “I know it’s hard not to have what you want. But I know you are going to be okay – once you stop feeling stuck on it.”
"If you decide against buying toys for your child, highlight your decision before you reach the store."
Otherwise, consider asking junior one of these questions the next time your mini-me starts to beg:
- “How long do you want to be unhappy about this for?”
- “Do you want to keep repeating and be unhappy, or do you want to settle for less and start enjoying the day?”
- “Would you want to continue whining and let all this spoil your day?”
While formulating and dwelling on her answer, the child learns to cut through her emotional turmoil, sort out her feelings and verbalise her distress rationally. As she grows older, she will discover that while she cannot control her circumstances, she can control her reaction to them. Now that’s a precious life skill many parents want to inculcate.
7. Give a heads-up
If you decide against buying toys for your child, highlight your decision before you reach the store. Karen Sum, 38, a mother of four kids aged 10 months, 3, 7, and 9, reminds her kids again when they set foot in the store: “We are buying milk today; we can buy the toy next week.” It’s important to set your rules and stick to them, so the child knows that they should not expect to get any toys.
8. Count down to the next task
To encourage your child’s toothbrushing habit, warn her she must stop whatever she’s doing and brush her teeth every evening after you’ve counted from one to 10. Donald Lim, 40, says this method has worked well with his 3-year-old daughter. “My wife and I established this as a routine and consistently follow through with it, so our girl accepts the countdown as a signal to do as she’s told. Yes, we’ve used it successfully to stop her occasional tantrum.”
9. Walk away
If you have told your child she’s not going on the slide another time, but she pleads for another round, be prepared to leave.
Georgina Tan, 34, who has two daughters aged 2½ and 6, followed through on her warning recently, much to the horror of her younger daughter. “I made it very clear that I tolerated no begging: No simply means no!”
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