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I have a 21-month-old daughter. Sometimes (not always), if she bumps her head, or stubs her toe, or whatever, this results in crying and asking to be held (and not wanting to be put down once the crying has stopped).

My current response to this is to

  • accept her request: she's upset, and I don't want to withhold support
  • make a show out of examining the hurt spot, giving it a kiss, telling her that she's OK
  • try to draw her attention elsewhere ("hey, look at this!", "what's mommy doing?", etc), hopefully hooking her onto it so that she forgets about being upset and lets me put her down (and hopefully also teaching her something about how to deal with pain)

However, recently a family member visited. When one such scene happened, this person's immediate response was to sort of smirk at my daughter (daring her to be upset? haughtiness because she's seen this before? I don't know), and to mock her crying by saying things like "oooh, it hurts sooooooo much!" (Incidentally, this seemed to make the crying last longer, in spite of me trying to comfort her.) This person had raised her own daughter pretty much by sending her to her room whenever she cried; after the crying was over, the child could come out and talk about it.

I used to agree with this method, but now I find it a little harsh (seems like it denies emotional support when requested, thereby creating a situation where the child isn't automatically accepted - and of course the mocking is bad). However, I do worry that I may be "spoiling" my own daughter, or teaching her to whine over nothing, or whatever.

Am I being too "soft", or am I falling for a dangerous cliché? It seems like this sort of "it's only a big deal if somebody's watching" behavior is normal, but is there a risk that it will continue (and if so, what causes it)?

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Well, they have one thing in common. They are both behaving like a 21-month old should. –  Kevin Jun 18 '12 at 21:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I agree with Beofett here, and would extend this into a few more generalizable terms.

Your relative is not respectful. Mocking behavior is not respectful to the children, nor to your reaction, and that lack of respect is hurtful. From what you've said, that lack of respect was how she raised her own daughter. How is this relative's daughter now? Does she do the same thing, treating everything with mocking derision?

Children who are not shown respect will not know how to show it in turn; your relative is setting up a relationship based on mocking sarcasm, rather than loving support. I'm all for mocking sarcasm, when it's appropriate, when the other party can fight back and everyone knows that it's a joke. Two year olds are not in on the joke and will take it at face value.

As for your daughter's behavior, I tend to fall on the side of, "Meh, you're not really hurt," and only really go to my son's aid when it's obviously a calamity (fell further than his height, is bleeding, looks like a joint got seriously torqued, etc). Her behavior comes from the knowledge of what's expected; right now, she expects that every bump and scrape will get her some attention, so she may even start initiating the pain (viz this question). If she expects that you'll just barely look at her and say, "You're fine," then the drama should stop.

Saying that you're fine, and paying attention to serious injury, is very respectful, in my mind. It sends the message that she is expected to be competent on her own, but that if problems arise, she knows she can turn to you. She shouldn't rely on you for every little thing, but should have a wellspring of internal resilience. That means that when she's older, she should have the wherewithal to handle most situations, but the knowledge (and the comfort in that knowledge) that she can rely on others for help in bigger situations.

Sometimes, you can't help it; you just don't want your little one to get hurt. They will get hurt; it's how they learn to react to the pain that will be what you teach them.

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Agreed; with my kids most of the time the injury is just a bump or fall, and the cry is more from being scared than the momentary pain. Just receiving the acknowledgement from a, "Oh <name>, you're okay!" is enough. They stop crying to hear my words, then realize that they are indeed ok, and go back to playing. If they keep crying, it could be that they're just tired and frustrated. –  Bryce Jun 21 '12 at 18:52
    
This is a great way to approach things with the relative and generally with the toddler, but telling a child they are fine, based on your opinion or not can teach a child to put more stock in what you think than in their own instincts. If the child cries even from embarasment or even having been startled, a little comfort is called for. –  balanced mama Nov 13 '12 at 22:09
    
@balancedmama-- I think that this is a difference in our parenting styles, and that different kids have different needs. But in general, I don't believe in comforting when life's little problems happen-- I believe that kids need to experience some hardship to be able to avoid it. –  mmr Nov 14 '12 at 0:13

Quite frankly, your family member should stop doing that to your daughter. Its one thing if you have decided to follow a similar method, and have communicated this to the family member in advance (I still don't think its a good method to use, but at least it would have been your decision). It is quite another to come into someone else's house, even if they are family, and mock their toddler.

The behavior is completely unacceptable, and you should do what you have to to get it to stop (talk to the family member, and if that doesn't work, avoid contact between them and your daughter).

Now I have to admit that I have some worries that my wife's approach to injuries may be a bit in the other edge of the spectrum, as she tends to make a bigger deal over any injury (often before my son, who is the same age as your daughter, shows any signs that he's actually bothered by the incident). I tend to be a bit on the reserved side to compensate, but if my son is crying, I comfort him. Period.

When I was a child, my father used to mock me as a way of "motivating" me. My main memory of it was when he was trying to teach me to play chess. He would mock me whenever I made a bad move, or whenever he won (I should mention that I was probably 8, and while he wasn't Grand Master level, he was a rated player who played somewhat competitively). The outcome of this technique was that I hated playing chess, and learned to refuse to play with him. It did not turn me into an expert player, or cause my game to improve in any way.

I can't imagine that such a technique would be any more effective in teaching someone, particularly a toddler, about how to handle pain. The most I would expect from such a technique is to teach the child how to hide and repress pain and sadness. I would not consider such a thing healthy.

I believe the balance to seek is providing support and comfort, without making a big deal over it. Don't comfort unless the child seems bothered by it. Sometimes a kid will skin their knee, and then get up and continue as if nothing happened. Stopping them and exclaiming over the "owie!" that they didn't even notice might send the wrong message (although calmly stopping them and saying "let's get that cleaned up before you go back to playing" is perfectly fine).

If the child is crying, though, and upset, then withholding support seems like the wrong thing to do, and deliberately mocking them in order to "shame" them into behaving the way you want is just plain dysfunctional.

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I like what you have to say, and agree with you, but the answer is too anecdotal to convince me. –  Kelsey Rider Jun 18 '12 at 13:47
    
+1 for pointing out that it doesn't teach how to handle the pain, but instead teaches to hide and repress it. –  balanced mama Nov 13 '12 at 22:07

With my daughter, we'd always tell to just to "dust off" if she fell and hurt herself. Most times, she'd just dust her self off and continue playing. If she didn't then she was probably really hurt and we'd check her out and make sure she's ok.

This worked great (at least we though it did) until she broke her arm (green stick fracture) at the age of 6 and didn't tell me for a while because she thought I'd just tell her to "dust off."

Similarly, she face planted on a hard surface at school leaving substantial cuts in her face. She didn't cry for at least an hour because if you hurt yourself, "you just have to suck it up."

Sometimes, it is possible to raise a kid who's too tough. Balance is required since kids do not always understand context and severity.

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Good point. With our youngest son (2yrs), we are actually a bit conserned if he's already a bit too tough, but that is not because how we have dealt with him - he just seems to cope with pain better than most kids his age. It has made us be very aware on how he's crying, and distinguish between his cry when actually hurt (requires comforting) or cry because he doesn't get his way (quite common). –  awe Jun 19 '12 at 4:50
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Thanks for sharing - what a great "heads up." It is good to find a balance and it was nice of you to alert all of us to the imbalance in what I would have thought was a GREAT way to deal with it (simpler than mine for sure) until you talked about your daughter just assuming that you would always say "dust it off." Obviously, the aunt's way of handling things is even more likely to have a similar result along with other negatives. –  balanced mama Nov 13 '12 at 22:04

We generally follow what the other answers have written. Let them recover on their own from minor things, give comfort for real injuries, etc.

However we do sometimes use the mocking approach - for the fake cries. My son will often break out with sudden tears if he doesn't get his way. "No, you can't have candy instead of dinner." "Wahhh!!" We'll respond with, "Oh, what a fake cry!" and so on. When he realizes we're just not taking him seriously he quickly gives up.

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I actually asked, and still ask, mine to "rate" her ouch. I don't coo and say, "Oh no" or get upset myself, I simply ask, "How bad is it and what would you like?" Her options are: she doesn't need anything but to dust off and get back to her game/play, to be given a hug and kiss, to be held for a little longer - or to get some "recovery time to herself, or that we are going to need more help. Needing more help can mean a band-aid, kisses from another relative too, or a doctor if needed.

It is really important that you not look or act worried though. Your offer has to be made calmly so the child can assess the damage. Usually, I try not to react until after she is already upset (because most of the time, she doesn't bother if I don't) It has worked pretty well for us.

In regard to the relative, I'd probably ask her not to do that to my kid. I'd say that we can respectfully agree to disagree on how bumps and bruises should be handled and since it is my kid I'd prefer it if she just let me handle it. All you can do is request, but her actions are egregious enough to warrant saying something about it.

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