“Is that normal?” Jed asked, his face was a mixture of horror and concern as he watched a little boy scream his way out of the park.
I smiled. I think it was a saddened smile of understanding. I watched as this young man, who I knew was fairly serious about his girlfriend, took in the park scene of young parents with their children on this sunny autumn Saturday afternoon.
“You mean the screaming?” I tried to innocently ask.
“If I had screamed like that, my mother would have flattened me,” he answered. He caught himself and added, “Well, not actually flattened.”
As we headed out of the park, not waiting for the crisp cool air to shoo us home, I found myself trying to educate on the matters of parenting.
In the 1970’s (let’s not go clear back to the covered wagon days), a screaming child was one that was either hurt, scared or totally fatigued. A screaming child was attended to for what was needed. Children didn’t have the option of screaming to get their prince or princess needs met with instant gratification. If a screaming child was exhibiting trantrum-like behavior, the parent was under her own peer influence to chastise her child and stop the screaming.
By 2010, parental peer influences had dramatically changed. A chastising parent, if she didn’t proceed with aplomb and gentleness in tone of voice, received almost instant negative feedback from her peer group of moms. While her child is screaming that she wants her way, mom must be soothing and placating. Losing her ability to negotiate with her child would not be viewed in favorable terms by her parenting peers.
What I believe we are living with today are children who are being taught to express their needs (which is a good thing), but without the expectation that not all needs are met with equal response. Children are learning that screaming gets their parent’s attention. It may not get them what they want, but it will give them bargaining power. What it won’t get them is a form of discipline that is understandable to a five-year-old. As a child screams to be allowed to play longer in the park, the parent offers understanding (which is a good thing), but then compounds the behavior by offering the child an extra treat when they get home. This reinforces to the child that if he screams loud and long enough, he will get something satisfying for his efforts. The well-meaning parent wants to the child to understand that the parent is being responsive to their needs, but without the dynamic understanding of rewarding a negative behavior.
” . . .and so until the parenting tide changes in supporting the parent who teaches the child about negative consequences and delay of gratification–we will see more screaming children wherever we encounter children, including at school,” I offer as a conclusion.
Jed shook his head and said, “I think I’ll wait awhile to have any kids.”
I smiled. Screaming kids in the park was one form of birth control not usually listed anywhere.
Being gentle with our children can come in the form of teaching them about “no.” It will serve them well in the years to come.