Sulking in the Sandbox

In an effort to understand our “neurotic parenting culture,” (a culture of which I am a part, mind you!) a psychologist recently shared this dilemma:

You are the parent of a 3 year-old, and you’ve taken your child to the park. While he is playing in the sandbox, you are sitting at a bench nearby. Because you are grossly inadequate as a parent, you forgot to pack your customary shovel and bucket, and as a result, you can see your child envies the other, better-equipped and better-parented children who are enjoying themselves in the box.

At this point your kid grabs another kid’s shovel and pushes him away. (Does your child suddenly remind you of that ne’er do well brother-in-law?)

The victim’s parent, though, who was conveniently perched on the edge of the sandbox, immediately intervenes by reprimanding your child and by returning the shovel to its rightful owner. The moral order of the universe – or at least the moral order of this particular sandbox – is restored.

Question: What do you do now?

Almost all of us would spring to our feet, and sprint to the box in an effort to console our progeny. (And I think we would have 100% compliance with this approach, if our spouses were anywhere in the park. Nobody wants to look like the neglectful parent in front of our life partners!)

The better response, though, at least according to the experienced psychologist, is to do NOTHING.

“Of course, you want to keep an eye on things, but you don’t want to interfere. What is important is that your child learns that when he misbehaves, there are consequences. If you interfere with the natural feedback cycle, what he really picks up is that, even when he messes up and acts like a turkey, you will be there to make everything fine.”

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