In reading about parenting I often feel like there's a bit too much theory vs examples, so here's walking through a recent interaction that others later commented went surprisingly well.

At a recent Tuesday Family Dinner, one of the kids (~6y) served themself an absurd amount of pasta. They were told to put some of it back, refused, and someone else put it back. They burst into tears and completely fell apart. They were told they either needed to calm down or leave the room, and they left. Lots of angry crying and shouting from the other side of the house.

After waiting a bit to give them a chance to calm down some, I went to see if they wanted to talk. I asked, and they said they did (if they hadn't I would have turned around and gone back to the table). I sat with them on the couch with a mindset of providing calm and patient attention, and asked what had happened. They started to explain through their sobs, but I told them that I couldn't understand and asked if they could speak normally.

This isn't actually true: I'm generally pretty good at understanding kids, even when they are crying pretty hard. I'm strongly opposed to lying (to kids or anyone) in most circumstances, but this is one place where I do make an exception. I pretend that I can't understand, ask if they can speak normally, present myself as an eager listener, and in response kids reliably pull themselves together. This has a strong calming effect: something about no longer crying seems to filter back into feelings not seeming so overwhelming.

In this case, they calmed down some, and explained that they were upset because they had the amount of pasta they wanted and then people took it away. We talked about what they didn't like about that and they told me they were worried the pasta was going to run out and they would still be hungry after dinner.

Personally, I think this is very unlikely to be why they fell apart while at the table, but that doesn't actually matter! What's important is that they've calmed down and put something into words: once it's in words, we can work on it. I used a whispery voice to tell them that I knew about some secret extra pasta, and that there was no way we were going to run out. I asked if they wanted to sneak back into the kitchen and see, which they were excited about. Together we crept into the kitchen, as quietly as possible, to peek at the serving bowl. There was, as we observed together, much extra pasta.

By that point they were in a good place emotionally and we had solved what they had described as their problem. They cheerfully sat back down at the table, and the rest of dinner went well. When they finished what was on their plate and wanted more, I gave them some.

Earlier: A Calming Strategy.

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I remember a slightly similar incident from my own childhood. I was very upset and expressed my concerns, and it was explained to me why my concerns were wrong, and that the winning move was not to be upset any more. As far as the parents were concerned, problem solved. In fact I recall hearing my mother telling someone, many years later, about this as an example of her excellent parenting.

As far as I was  concerned the problem was not solved and the message I received was that my concerns about [issue] were to be kept to myself in future and I was on my own in this and any similar matters. Combined with other traumatic events that happened the same year, this left a resudue that was with me for many years.

My question in this case is why does the child have a high degree of anxiety about not getting enough food? What is going on here? I mean, looking beneath the surface a bit...

it was explained to me why my concerns were wrong

Not sure if what I have in mind is the same, but I can think of scenarios where an explanation of how I'm wrong makes it feel like my concerns are being dismissed instead of being addressed. I'm guessing it's because a child's reasoning can seem illogical to an adult even though they actually make sense from the child's perspective, and it's upsetting when adults fail to acknowledge this.

Notice that jefftk is responding to the child from the child's perspective. The child thinks that there's not enough pasta, presumably because of what they can see from the serving bowl. jefftk shows the child the extra pasta in the kitchen (so the child can see that there's actually more pasta), thus addressing the child's concerns.

In contrast, one may answer from the adult's perspective instead. For example, they may say that there's enough because one serving of pasta is x grams and they made 10 servings when we have only 8 people. Or maybe they say that it's made by grandma who has lots of experience in estimating how much everyone needs. These make sense from the adult's perspective, but if the child doesn't really understand or trust the reasoning (e.g. because they don't have the concepts yet), then such explanations would feel more like dismissals of the child's concerns.

the message I received was that my concerns about [issue] were to be kept to myself in future

That is not a message I would want to send, and I don't think it's a message I sent here? I listened to their concerns, and then specifically addressed them, making sure to get buy-in before doing anything.

You have to realize that as a parent you deal with this situation on a daily basis: Kid is hungry, does something unreasonable, get's upset about the resulting conflict. 

You can't do a psychological deep dive everytime. If this isn't a recurring theme there very likely is nothing more to it than hunger+conflict=upset and calming the kid down is exactly the right thing to do. 

In your case it seems to have been a recurring thing and as a parent you should catch that, but, in defense of your mother, she probably calmed you down a thousand other times without leaving any psychological scars (or even memories).

I don't like this. It looks like you pressured the kid to stop crying and just hide their feelings ("I told them that I couldn't understand and asked if they could speak normally").

Also, it seems unlikely to me that the kid's real reason for getting upset was that "they were worried the pasta was going to run out and they would still be hungry after dinner". But still, I observe that this is what the kid said. From this I infer that either you, in this situation, or the kid's social environment, before this situation, pressured the kid into generating fake but socially acceptable explanations of their feelings. I don't like it that people often have to generate fake but socially acceptable explanations of their feelings, even with close people. At least, if you're a very close person to this kid who acts as his guardian.

Several times you mention that it sounds like I was pressuring them, but this whole interaction was optional for both of us. I was offering to listen to them and try to help, but (they knew that) there wouldn't be any consequences to telling me they didn't want help beyond me just going back to the table.

It looks like you pressured the kid to stop crying and just hide their feelings ("I told them that I couldn't understand and asked if they could speak normally").

Would you feel differently if it was actually the case that I was bad at understanding kids who are currently crying?

it seems unlikely to me that the kid's real reason for getting upset was that "they were worried the pasta was going to run out and they would still be hungry after dinner"

Agreed. This is why I wrote "I think this is very unlikely to be why they fell apart while at the table"

I infer that either you, in this situation, or the kid's social environment, before this situation, pressured the kid into generating fake but socially acceptable explanations of their feelings.

I think this is a weird and complicated question. When you ask someone why they are upset, especially a kid, often you will get something that is not the real reason. People have limited introspection, especially with only a few years experience. So yes, I don't like the thing where asking someone what's wrong can decrease both their and your understanding of the actual problem.

On the other hand, when there is actually something important wrong, kids can often describe it well. If you look at the complaints adults give about the treatment they received as children, one of the biggest ones I run into is adults not listening and taking them seriously when they described problems.

So the approach I've generally taken is to talk to kids and help them solve the problems they say they have. This generally seems to work pretty well?

Would you feel differently if it was actually the case that I was bad at understanding kids who are currently crying?

Yes, of course.

So the approach I've generally taken is to talk to kids and help them solve the problems they say they have. This generally seems to work pretty well?

This sounds good! However, another thing that matters is whether you give off a "you're only allowed to give respectable reasons for your feelings" vibe.

Btw, I wanna say that I enjoy reading your parenting posts a lot.

Would you feel differently if it was actually the case that I was bad at understanding kids who are currently crying?

Yes, of course.

Not clear to me why we should think of these as different. We care about the effect on the kid, right? Since they could just as easily ended up talking to someone who wasn't able to understand them through their crying. Is it more that if I were unable to understand them in this way that would be not ideal, but there are just lots of things about the world that aren't ideal?

another thing that matters is whether you give off a "you're only allowed to give respectable reasons for your feelings" vibe

I try not to give off that vibe, but I think in many ways just talking pushes people in that direction? If you have feelings and don't really know why you have them, and you are asked for a reason, sometimes you're going to supply a reason that feels like a thing even if it isn't the root cause.

Btw, I wanna say that I enjoy reading your parenting posts a lot.

Thanks!

Not clear to me why we should think of these as different. We care about the effect on the kid, right?

I suppose that when I think about the situation when you only pretend not to understand them, I imagine something like a strict dad telling his son "Pull yourself together, you wimp!". While if you actually don't understand them, then I imagine a cooperative conversation between the two of you, where you not understanding them while they are crying is an obstacle both of you would like to overcome.

That makes sense. It's a lot more like the latter: to the extent I'm capable, I'm imitating someone who really can't understand crying kids and is trying their best to be helpful and sympathetic given that limitation.

I am glad to hear that.

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