Part of being a parent is dealing with upset children who express their frustration through tantrums, whining or pouting. Often our response to these behaviors depends upon the extent of the tantrum, the location it occurs and how patient we’re feeling. I’ve heard many opinions on the best way to respond, because we’ve all got them! Some experts urge parents to ignore the negative behavior, or risk reinforcing it and increasing the likelihood of your child doing it again. Others contend that children’s behaviors are feelings to be understood, and that we need to respond to our child based upon those feelings. I think it is safe to say, no matter what you believe, that all parents would prefer their child not have tantrums in public!
This past weekend on the big screen at a major league baseball game, a parent and his child became the focal point of this very debate. Broadcasters noticed a young boy in the stands who became upset when he did not catch a foul ball. The little boy was captured pouting on the big screen, pleading with his father and venting his frustration. The broadcasters chimed in with their opinion of the situation: expressing sorrow for his father, chuckling at the extent of the pouting and then trying to fix it by sending over team staff with a baseball for the young boy. With ball in hand, the young boy was then captured on the big screen displaying a huge grin.
The station that aired this episode had plenty to say about how this “should have” been handled: broadcasters agreed unanimously that the young boy should not have been given the baseball because he had acted poorly. By giving him the baseball his negative behavior was being supported and he would learn that pouting would get him what he wanted. This made me wonder what he was really learning. Was it this, or something else?
The young boy was clearly upset. As adults, we may say it is ridiculous to get that upset over a baseball and there are better ways to deal with frustration. However, this is not an adult; this is a young boy expressing his feelings. For him this was a Big Deal. Even so, he did not hit anyone or grab the ball away from the woman who caught it, he pouted and expressed his disappointment. And while feeling this bad, someone noticed and tried to console him by giving him a baseball. So, what did he really learn? Did he learn to get his own way by pouting? Or did he learn that people care when you are upset, that they will try to help you? We can’t know, but we can hope that he will he remember this act of kindness and pay it forward.