Jeremy Sharp, PhDchild development/parenting 2 Comments


My three-year-old screamed this phrase at me about fifty times tonight after dinner. On special nights like tonight, after a day of no toileting accidents (another topic entirely!), we sometimes offer him a popsicle as a reward. He LOVES popsicles. One morning not long ago, my  wife and I let him go downstairs to play with toys for thirty minutes before we got out of bed…only to find that he’d managed to eat four popsicles in that time, and all before 6 am.

Unfortunately for everyone, our son managed to misbehave quite a bit before we could give him the popsicle tonight. First he purposefully dumped some juice on the floor, then tackled his sister a few times, then chose to splash water on her and all over the floor despite our requests otherwise. By the time all was said and done, he had lost his popsicle treat and all chances to earn it back.

Eventually, I had to deliver the unfortunate news that there was ZERO chance of getting a popsicle after all. His reaction would make you think it was the first he’d heard of the possibility. I offered Bunny Grahams as a consolation prize instead. Then he let me (and the entire neighborhood) know that Bunny Grahams, in fact, are NOT a treat. Several times in a row. With some thrashing, throwing things, and aggressive behavior toward his sister thrown in for good measure.

I was tempted to cave. Was I doing the right thing? Being too harsh? Should we have offered a popsicle in the first place?

But I was feeling strong tonight. I held firm to the “Bunny Grahams or nothing” decision. After several minutes and some half-hearted swings at my face and chest, he settled down and allowed himself to consider the idea. Eventually I asked if he wanted to get his snack and sit on the couch with me, and he agreed.

While this happy resolution doesn’t happen nearly enough in our house, it was a good reminder of how important it is to set boundaries with kids and stick to them. Myself included, it’s all too easy to threaten without following through. Especially when there’s a huge tantrum. Being in the field and talking with parents at least once a week about parenting strategies for things like ADHD and other behavior disorders, I’m always reminded of the need to “walk the walk.” But it’s hard! Nights like these give me a little hope.

Here’s a link to some good handouts on communication, parenting, and self-esteem in kids.

Hang in there, parents!




Comments 2

  1. Great job holding firm, Dr. Sharp. We have real trouble doing the same with our four year old because when she was two and three, she learned that if she screamed loudly and long enough she could eventually get a “consolation prize” from us. We had to redouble our efforts this summer to say “no” and really mean it, even though the consequences for us as parents were pretty terrible. And it works! Clear boundaries that don’t break when tested have restored peace and happiness to our house and were definitely worth the few weeks of struggle it took us to get there.

  2. Post

    Great to hear, Lane! It’s tough work and an ongoing journey. Kiddos are great at finding novel solutions to problems (like parents’ “stupid” limits) and keeping us on our toes. Sounds like you’ve found some balance.

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