Dear Carolyn: I hope I’m not too late with a Christmas dilemma. My friend, “Louise,” has a 4-year-old niece, “Lyndie,” who is already a spoiled brat. Last year at their family Christmas gathering, Louise said she patted the then-3-year-old on her head as she passed her in the hallway. The little girl followed her to her chair, got in her face and exclaimed, “Don’t ever touch me like that again,” and stormed off. Louise was flabbergasted.
Apparently Lyndie is always running around screaming and stomping her feet at these family events.
A few weeks ago, Lyndie’s mother emailed a list to the family of what Lyndie wants for Christmas. Louise is distressed about rewarding Lyndie’s behavior. What do you think? – “Thelma”
Say this for Lyndie: She gets what boundaries are, even if her technique could use some work.
And why shouldn’t it? She’s 4. I hope her adults do teach manners – though it seems what she really needs is loving attention. “Family events” too often mean yakking adults and bored, desperate kids, who then seek stimulation and attention! Run! Scream! Stomp!
I hope, too, that Lyndie’s adults don’t ignore, discipline or praise wholesale, and instead tease out good from bad. I have in mind her willingness to stand up for herself when she doesn’t appreciate being touched by someone she barely knows. That is not an impulse you want to civilize out of her.
No, the part that needs changing in this story is merely Lyndie’s delivery. Toward that end, Louise could have said: “I’m sorry I touched your head without your permission. Please tell me politely next time – I feel sad and angry when people yell at me.”
Withholding gifts to make this point is just loopy. What will keep the tantrum out of the toddler is to give positive attention and something to do. A 4-year-old can do small errands to feel included – and loving relatives can take turns getting on the floor to play.