Jason Good has a blog post about reasons his 3 year old is flipping out, and it’s pretty funny. It digs right into just how irrational little kids are, how confusing and overwhelming the world can be for them and how confusing and overwhelming they can be for their parents/caregivers. I like his blog. He’s obviously an involved and loving parent who knows his kids well and is able to put a humorous yet understanding spin on daily life. So when I first saw links to a tumblr about why a kid is crying I assumed it was a link to his site. It wasn’t. Instead, it’s a collection of photos of a crying 2 or 3 year old with a caption as to why he’s crying. The kid cries a lot, apparently. And the kid’s parent takes time to photograph the kid while crying and note down why he’s crying (milk’s in the wrong color cup, a piece of cheese is the wrong shape, etc). There’s a lot of people who think it’s really funny.
It’s really, really hard being a kid– especially a young kid. A really little kid flips out when his cheese is the wrong shape or her milk’s in the wrong cup because 1) that means it’s just plain WRONG and/or 2) that’s one thing in a huge world they have control over and now they’ve lost that control. Good’s blog post feels empathic. It reads as a guy who understands that it’s hard to be a little kid, and that it can be frustrating to be the parent of a little kid, but if you step back you can see the humor in the situation. The tumblr feels… I don’t know. My mind lights on words like “cruel” and “predatory” but I don’t think that’s quite it. Friends of mine suggest it’s something that was designed to go viral and sure enough, the creator and his family were on TV concerning it. But what’s the difference between Good’s blog post and the tumblr?
I think the biggest thing is that Good put in effort after the fact to list reasons his kid was flipping out and the sheer number, and ridiculousness of them, builds and is funny. And a lot of stuff he talks about were things he was doing with his kid, interacting with his kid. The tumblr is quick snapshots of a kid that already looks stressed out accompanied by one-sentence descriptions. It feels like the tumblr author prioritizes taking a photo of his kid in crises to helping his kid in crises solve the problem. Good talks about his kid, the tumblr author complains about his kid.
And, you know, sometimes parents and caregivers need to vent. Kids can be frustrating, challenging, hard work. And when parents and caregivers complain they’re frequently abused for doing so, especially if they’re women. (In fact, one friend of mine asked if the tumblr would be as popular if it were a mom writing it; dads get way more leeway to be less than saints. I think it’d fly as long as she was white, affluent, and joked about how much wine she drinks. Several “mommybloggers” fitting that description landed book deals based on their HILARZ discussions of alcoholic parenting, then checked into rehab. That really wouldn’t have worked for them if they weren’t a certain type.) So I’m all for finding and creating safe spaces to vent, to unload, to ask for help. But that really doesn’t feel like it’s what’s happening.
In my experience, which is fairly limited to my own relatively laid back 4 year old and some babysitting (age ranges from 1 1/2-7 years old) most freak outs can be nipped in the bud by remembering HALT. Is the kid Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? If your kid (or adult) starts getting on edge and acting brittle, look at the circumstances. When did they last eat? Do they need to calm down and sleep? Do they need attention? Are they angry/frustrated and need to express that and then calm down before proceeding? For really little kids, also check to see if they need to use the bathroom or are generally over whelmed. Being mindful of your kid’s needs can go a long way toward creating a smoother life for everyone involved. This isn’t some magic bullet that will solve all your problems, obviously.
It’s also important to remember that little kids don’t have adult brains. If they ask for a piece of cheese and you give them the “wrong” shape of cheese? That is not what they asked for. Until they make certain synaptic connections, they cannot translate that. It’s not possible. Their brains are growing, and they aren’t just increasing in size they’re increasing connections and the ability to make deductions. They have very little control over their lives, so cling to what they CAN control: what color cup they use, what shirt they wear. They are just learning new skills and get frustrated easily because what they WANT to do is so much harder than it should be because they are still learning how to do it. When little kids flip out, it’s because they can’t cope with the world at the moment. Part of maturing is learning to cope with it, even when frustrating… and part of parenting is teaching kids how to cope with a frustrating world.
Or you could take photos of your sobbing child and post it to tumblr, I guess.
Edited to add:
I was talking about this with a couple other people and more than one person compared it (negatively) to The Honest Toddler. Good and THT both discuss parenting and specific child-centered situations, and tend to poke fun at adults, parents, and specific styles of parenting (generally affluent, privileged parenting) while the tumblr pokes fun at a kid… a kid who’s defenseless at the moment. Instead of holding the powerful up to scrutiny, it holds the defenseless up. It’s a bit exploitative. And it bothers me that there’s just this constant string of negative photos of a little kid having problems.