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Why Catering to Your Child's Tantrums Isn't Always a Bad Thing

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Are western parents doing kids a disservice by giving in to all whims? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Andrew Weill, tax attorney, on Quora:

Judging something as a "whim" is often a misperception. Children are not always facile with their language, and sometimes parents or adults interpret a communication with negative judgments that, on examination, are inappropriate.

As a young child, I screamed whenever a shoe salesman approached me. Was I whimsical? Willful? A "bad" child? No, I was a fearful child. I associated "person wearing white coat" with "doctor who will stick a needle into me." (I had several childhood illnesses and apparently had numerous injections; I have no conscious memory of this.) The salesmen at the shoe store we went to all wore white coats. My young brain processed "white coat = threat of pain" and reacted accordingly.

I wasn't "bullying" my parents; I was expressing my fear.

This was overcome by my parents figuring out what was going on and explaining the misunderstanding to me.

I've raised three kids. At various times, each child in his or her way has engaged in behaviors that were problematic. We weren't perfect, but by and large, we tried to understand the issue, and then deal with it in a natural and respectful way and with consideration of the needs of all concerned.

For example, my younger son was a very picky eater. But he was a good sport, and he wouldn't mind going to a different place if we were doing our best to cater to his preferences. I believe that our negotiated outcome was a better result than an authoritarian approach. Perhaps someone else would have judged this as "submitting when he threw a fit," but I think that would be a mistake. He certainly did not grow into a selfish adult; instead, he has worked in youth camps with remarkable patience and communication skills with developmentally disabled children. He's one of the most considerate and kind people I know (although he gets that naturally from his mother).

I think that wise parents learn what battles are worth fighting and which ones are not, and even better, try to avoid conflicts as much as possible. The so-called "fits" are often great opportunities for real communication about needs and feelings, and chances to build trust and confidence. All my kids had their stormy episodes, learned mastery of them with some assistance from us, and now are mature, caring adults.

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