Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What to do When Your Toddler is Acting Like a Spoiled Brat

A friend of mine texted me today: "I need advice on how to get my daughter to walk on her own. I simply can't and won't carry her everywhere. She cries and appears to be a spoiled brat about it. I'm starting to get mad at her. Her dad carries her everywhere."

There are many issues going on here:
1) Mom wants to know how to get toddler to walk more on her own
2) Mom doesn't want to carry baby anymore
3) Baby wants to be carried and is protesting
3) Mom thinks baby is a spoiled brat

My response:

It is authentic for mom to refuse to carry her toddler--she doesn't want to. We never have to do what we don't want to do and shouldn't--sacrificing in our relationships causes resentment.

It is also authentic for the toddler to protest. She wants to be carried and she should not be made to feel ashamed of her desire to be carried nor should she be made to feel ashamed of the sadness and anger she feels when her mom refuses to carry her. Her feelings of anger and sadness are absolutely valid. It sucks when we want something from someone and they won't give it to us! 

When mom labels her toddler a "spoiled brat" she is using "battle" language--judgements that allow people to treat other people without empathy. This is the kind of "enemy" thinking that enables us to do things to people we wouldn't do otherwise. Relationships are a challenge but they are not a battle and the minute we turn them into a battle we have lost.

Our toddlers are not trying to trick us or manipulate us with their crying. They are crying because they feel sad. When I want my husband to take me out like he said he would and he announces that he is too tired, I feel super hurt and I cry. I am not crying to get him to change his mind or to get my way or to make him feel guilty. I am crying to release my sadness and it is imperative for my health that I do so. If the fact that I feel sad makes my husband feel guilty, then he might call me names like "cry baby" or accuse me of being manipulative but what he really needs to do is to allow himself to feel sad that he cannot give me what I want, it is also likely that he needs to acknowledge a certain level of shame for feeling tired, shame for not fulfilling an imagined duty of making me happy. But these are HIS things, they are not my things.

Sadness isn't bad. Anger isn't bad. We are not bad moms when our babies feel sad. In our culture it is quite common for people to feel ashamed when they do not feel happy and especially if they feel sadness or anger. We have been given the message that we should not feel these things so when we do feel these things we hide it from ourselves and blame the other person, calling them names and punishing them. When we find ourselves name calling or reverting to battle thinking, we are usually tired, nor asserting our needs or feeling ashamed.

Lastly, it's important for us to question why we cannot meet our child's needs. If we don't want to carry our children because our back hurts that is legitimate. If we don't want to carry our children because of a "should" idea (Two-year-olds should not be carried anymore! They should walk!) we need to reframe our thinking. There is a great saying in AA "Don't should on yourself." That applies here--don't should on your kids! There are no shoulds. There are only feelings and needs (or values). 


  1. I love the response, I'd also like to see your ideal situation played out. What could the mother do, to support her own needs and acknowledge her child's sadness in a way that doesn't feel demeaning to either of them. I often find this step missing in so many beautiful ideals, and I know life is never ideal and situations can look many ways, but to begin to talk in the concrete, real world seems helpful in starting to put it into practice. See you on the journey.

    1. This site would not let me edit my reply so I had to delete the entire thing to change two lines--sorry about that, here it is:
      Hi Jason, The way the situation would play out is that the toddler asks to be carried and the mom says, "I don't want to carry you." The toddler starts to protest and the mom stops what she is doing, goes down to the toddler's level and says, "You want me to carry you. But I don't want to carry you right now. You have gotten so big that it hurts me to carry you!" Perhaps at this point the toddler protests very loudly and so the mom says again, "You want me to carry you. It looks like you feel sad and angry because I don't want to carry you." The toddler wails a little more and the mom listens. Perhaps the toddler starts to cry and the mom continues to listen. At some point the mom offers the toddler a hug and the toddler pushes the mom away. The mom might say then, "You don't want a hug from me right now. You feel angry!" Perhaps the toddler tries to hit her mom and the mom says, "You want to hit me! I can't let you hurt me, do you want to hit the ground? (for under 2) and do you want me to hold you (for over 2)." ("Hold you" in this context means holding the child in a tight hug so that she cannot hit her mom.)

      The toddler may express her disappointment for quite some time. The mom would continue to listen and offer empathy--it is no fun not getting what we want. When the toddler is done expressing how she feels, she will become interested in something else. She will feel heard and understood and she will also have learned how to say "no" to a friend one day, despite angry protests.