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« Building Self-Esteem Without Praise | Main | What does this say, anyway? Reading without Assumptions. »



Thanks for this. It's something I think about a lot too. The other day, my daughter threw a fit and in doing so she smacked her hand down kind of hard on the floor which made her cry. My response was... actually, I didn't respond. I refuse to deal with tantrums. My husband swooped in and picked her up because she hurt her widdle hand. I felt like he was just rewarding the tantrum. He felt like he was giving her due sympathy and saving her from mommy who was ignoring her fit. I don't know.

Kat O+

I think you've just diagnosed my husband's parenting style! *lol* He thinks he picks his battles, but I think he surrenders. My personal stance is if I issue an order (or request--don't forget the magic word *lol*) then I expect it to be followed. Even if it's a trifling thing that for some reason the toddler wants to be difficult about.

BUT the next time the situation comes up (e.g. socks vs. socks and shoes), I KNOW that there's a possibility the toddler will be difficult and if I don't care either way then I'll give him a choice--"Would you like to wear just socks or socks and shoes?" I feel that way he gets to have some say some of the time, and the times I need to enforce the rule (e.g. shoes when we're going to the park) then he'll know by the way I phrase it that it's not a negotiable request. It doesn't always work, but it works well enough. Which is about all I can hope for, I think.

Also, toddlers are pretty smart. Mine, for example, knows that his father is more likely to give in and therefore says "no" to him more often. He also comes up to him and whispers for "Thomas DVD" when he thinks I'm not listening. He's only two; I dread to think what he'll come up with as he gets older.


Very excellent post, MIM. I agree with you -- I think "pick your battles" can be appropriate in a one-time situation when you have two potentially conflicting objectives (like when you're out to dinner and your kid acts up, so you remove them from the table rather than fight your way through the meal.) But I think in cases like you describe -- particularly with sock boy -- you run the risk of losing the war.


I think the difference between "surrendering" and "picking your battles" is whether or not you've already told your child "NO" about something.

The mom with the shoes asked her son to put them on, he said no, she didn't make a fuss and just went with the alternative plan.

The woman with the daughter and the dress, however, had already told her daughter that she couldn't keep the dress and then she BACKTRACKED and caved to her daughter's wishes.

There's a big difference there, IMHO.

I try to decide when I ask my kids to do something (or they ask me) before I answer them whether or not I'm willing to follow through with what I say. If I say no, then I HAVE to stick with NO, even if the yelling and screaming that commences makes me wish I could just turn around and say yes instead.

Daydreams and Musings

I was just talking to a colleague who has a toddler son who apparently "likes" to throw tantrums. I told him that I had a very easy rule I followed. I told my kids that I never give into tantrums. And I never did. And they didn't throw very many tantrums.

I would never allow my kids to walk outside without shoes. To me that's a non-negotiable safety issue. I would simply insist that they put their shoes on or I'd do it for them. After awhile, they'd learn that they weren't going to win that particular battle and it would stop.

The dress, to me, is a little different. Before I give away my kids' clothes or toys, we have a discussion where we talk about things being too small or for younger kids and someone else getting to use them. If there's something in particular they want to keep, we keep it (within reason). That way they feel that they have some control but also learn a lesson about letting things go.

And I think it's ok for the mom to change her mind in the face of her daughter's sadness about losing her favorite dress. (Depending on how it was done.) Parents make mistakes, too. The mom should have said "I'm sorry I agreed to give away your favorite dress. That was wrong and I'll try to talk to you first next time. We can keep the dress for now and when you're ready, we'll give it away." That way the child learns that everyone makes mistakes and the parent is modeling a good way of handling mistakes.


It seems to me that the idea of "picking your battles" is one that is decided at the outset rather than when faced with a tantruming child. It is "picking your battles" to allow your child to not wear shoes if they chose not to in a regular way - but it is surrenduring if this decision is achieved through a power struggle with the child.

Frankly, with the shoe issue it should be pretty easy to a) find a compromise (would sandals be better?) or b) allow natural consequences to take their course (a toddler who refused to put on boots in midwinter won't get further than the front porch before changing her mind). This can be a way to pick one's battles.

Laura S.

The point that we choose our battles ahead of time rather than while in the midst of them, I think is exactly right. It's about enforcing predetermined rules and/or overall standards of behavior.

For Sock Mom, I think she's unwittingly reinforcing a low standard of behavior for her son. (Of course, this opinion is not just based on the shoe scenario. There appears to be an overall pattern of accommodating his refusals!) This is why I view her carrying around extra socks as a surrender rather than a real alternative. By accommodating him, she's sending him the message that he can refuse to do things that everyone else is expected to do and that's okay because she'll still ensure he has clean socks anyway so he won't feel uncomfortable. It would be one thing if the kid was 18 months-old, but this child is FIVE! He's in kindergarten! And if he's used to being accommodated by mom, then he will expect this same treatment at school (which has been part of the problem!).

Daydreams & Musings -- I think your suggestion about working with the child is a great one. I also think that even if the dress had been the child's favorite, that mom should have enforced a standard of behavior rule. Kids can ask for things politely, but if we let them yell at us to get what they want, then that's all they'll do!

In the end, what I want these scenarios to illustrate is that sometimes it's easy to use terms like "pick your battles" as rationalizations for giving in.


My issue with "sock mom" is that she *asked* the kid to put on his shoes. I don't ask my kids to put clothes, socks, shoes, or coats on. I tell them it's time to so and they do. I also don't ask them to brush their teeth or get ready for bed or if they're ready to leave a playdate. If you phrase certain things as requests, they're going to be denied. Who *wants* to leave a playdate (assuming fun is being had by all)? My point is that sometimes we need our kids to do things and those things aren't requests nor are they negotiable. If I've already said "no", I won't change to a "yes". My kids know that by now (ages ten and six) and I'm rarely second-guessed on "no".

Enforcing the rules may be difficult in the short term, but the long term rewards are so very worth it.


Yes, yes, yes! I wholeheartedly agree. Some things are non-negotiable. The whole sock scenario made me roll my eyes. If that were me I would have said put your shoes on because we're leaving now, and there would be no two ways about it. I mean, who is the parent here? In my household, when my children (now 9 and 11 yrs) are told what is expected from them, there is a general compliance, because there is no other option. They do it or they face the consequences. And I follow through on those consequences. One of my favourite lines is this: "Well, if this (insert scenario) doesn't get done then something is going to happen that you're not going to like. And don't think I don't mean it!" And guess what? 9 times out of 10 it gets done because my kids always know that I mean what I say. I don't think I'm mean----I'm just realistic. I won't put up with nonsense and my kids know it! They have EXCELLENT manners and are wonderful children with great senses of humour and warmth. People like being around them and I think that's a direct result of them understanding what's expected of them socially, as well as a general sense of personal responsibility for their actions.


I have a kid who hates shoes. She always took them off in the car (she was 2) and refused to put them back on, once kicking me in the face while I tried to do so.

So I "picked a battle" one day. I told her she was welcome to walk to the door without her shoes but that she had to carry them and put them away because my hands were full with groceries.

She was delighted!

We have a gravel driveway.

She started to whine after two steps, I turned around and looked at her and asked if she thought "no shoes" was a good choice. She got the look on her face that said "I know you're right but I'm not going to admit it" and walked the rest of the way in her bare feet but we never had to argue with her again about it. She would prefer sandals to shoes, but understands that socks, shoes, boots etc. are choices that we make based on the weather outside.

If possible, when a kid wants to do something that you would prefer they not, let them experience the consequences of that choice. Safety is of course paramount, but honestly, I used to run around in barefeet all summer in my parents gravel driveway and it never hurt me. I also discovered the hard way that barefeet and ashphalt are a really freaking uncomfortable combination in the summer. And that if you trip in barefeet, you're going to get a lot more hurt than if you're wearing shoes.

Sometimes the choices are things like "use your inside voice/polite words or we will leave this restaurant without eating and you will go straight to bed when we get home". The dress-girl would have probably found that too-small dress mighty uncomfortable to get in and out of, as well as sleep in (my kids have an irrational love for a red dress with cows on it that we bought at a yard sale for a dollar).


For me the measure is if I have already said no, or if there is a household rule about the sitiation. I generally do not surrender. My 6 year old wants to wear a differnt shirt than the one I picked out, and laid with his daily clothes, that's picking a battle. He's dressed, which is what I told him to do. However, sitting at the dinner table, finishing your meal, and the fist time you get down from the table- no dice. dinner over. Period. Tantrum, whines of hunger, "I'm not done.... I just..." too bad. That's the rule. To me, that's picking battles.


I think for me it comes down to thinking about your response first. Because if I don't care, for example with the dress situation, I would just tell her I was planning to give it to the friend, but if she wanted to wear it for one night before giving it away, that would be okay. I figure once you say no and set up an opposition, then it's harder to find a good way out for either of you. On the flip side, if I do care or if that's the rule or if the request/behaviour is unacceptable, then it's my job to stick with it.


Well this has been interesting reading - to the writer about the 2 year old and shoes. Yes, she probably figured you out pretty fast and of course you could not possibly be right and know more than she does, she is a whole two years old! Ironically, if she were like mine was at that age (Sarah, she's 9 now), the gravel probably would not have bothered her much. Living in a warmer climate year-round, I raised Sarah to go barefoot almost all the time from when she was born. I think she has worn shoes maybe a half dozen times all summer so far (to church, but she often kicks them off during the service). She runs about on gravel, sidewalks, parking lot, etc. The only rule I have is if she takes her shoes off, she must remove her socks if she's outside because I do not like trying to get them clean or replacing them. If you start early, her feet will toughen and when she's older it won't bother her to run around barefoot outside, even on the gravel. Something else my daughter enjoys doing is climbing trees. It is near impossible in flip-flops or sandals to climb safely and shoes can be clumsy. If she is barefoot, she can curl her toes as she climbs the branches. I have sometimes been asked, "are you not concerned about broken glass?". Sarah has stepped on her fair share of glass, and most of the time her feet have been tough enough for her to look at it after she stepped on it, but not enough to cause damage. I have had to remove wood splinters when she was younger. I'd say my little girl has developed some pretty tough feet and not much bothers her when she's barefoot outside.


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