Imagine the scene: Mother sitting having her 'cuppa' (that's
a cup of tea in British), when along comes 3-year-old
S: (Shloime) Want bottle.
Mother gets up and goes over to sink, gets a bottle and
starts to prepare it.
S: Blue lid!
Mother stops what she's doing, finds appropriate bottle and
starts preparing it.
S: Not that — that! (Meaning he wants the juice to be
from the larger container, rather than the smaller one
containing the same juice.)
Mother puts down the smaller container and picks up the
larger (and more awkward) one and makes the bottle.
S: Dry! (It isn't wet.)
Mother dries it, and hands it over, giving him a kiss.
Now let's play this through again. This time, the mother is
interested in raising an unspoiled and polite little boy;
this is also her First Child.
S: Want bottle.
M: How do you ask? Say 'please.'
S: (Crying) Bottle!
M: Just say 'please' Shloime.
After some more back and forth, finally Shloime says
'please.' Mother gets up and goes over to sink, gets a bottle
and starts to prepare it.
S: Blue lid!
M: It doesn't make any difference what color the lid is!
An argument ensues and mother is defeated by Shloime's tears.
She finds the correct bottle and starts to prepare it.
S: Not that — that!
Mother is thoroughly exhausted by the arguments already, and
this is the limit! "It's the same juice!"
S: That one, that one!
M: But Shloime, it won't taste any different!
Mother continues to reason with Shloime, and eventually,
gives him a bottle from the other juice container.
M: It's not wet! Here feel it!
More tears and frustration on both sides. The child may even
have started a temper tantrum, lying on the floor kicking and
screaming. Eventually he gets his bottle.
At each part of the interaction, Mother may also press for
the 'please' (as in 'Please dry it!'). She may also have a
sudden bout of guilt over the unhealthy teeth-rotting sweet
drink that her son constantly drinks, and/or that he is still
drinking from a bottle at his age. So she may choose this
moment to try to deny the bottle altogether. "If you're
thirsty have a cup," or moderate its contents —"Only
Major conflicts can spring up at any point, and a tantrum is
the way the child expresses his frustration. This can seem
very unreasonable to Mother. The mother may, of course, not
give in the very first time there is a conflict, and not pay
attention to his tears at all. The child may not get his
bottle because he remains so unreasonable, or he may learn
that he cannot express his will, certainly not if it
conflicts with his mother's. There are some 'strong' mothers
who are good at this, but I'm not one of them, just like I
know I won't be able to 'let him cry it out' to teach a baby
to sleep through the night.
Children at this age can be so incredibly frustrating. Even
if you know what they want and do that straight off, before
being asked, like finding the right bottle, filling it from
the preferred container of juice and drying it (after all
this may not be the first time), the child will still express
his disapproval. It is the fact that they have
events that is important to them, that they have
expressed their choices. If you give them what they want
straightaway without being asked, they may reject it, but
still not be able to choose another option because what you
gave them first is what they want, but they wanted to
It is not necessary for this stage in a child's life to be
one of so much conflict and temper tantrums. Even if Mother
doesn't take the first option of letting the child run the
whole show, she can choose her 'battles,' like insisting that
he say 'please,' but go along with everything else. The child
will naturally grow out of caring which lid the bottle has.
In fact, even with no intervention, he will eventually grow
out of bottles altogether. If Mother decides that the bottles
need to be limited, removed or the contents altered, it
should be done with a full understanding of the consequences
for her child and she must decide that even though he will
suffer, the need is more important. Then when she fights this
battle, she must remain firm, calm and consistent. If you
cannot remain consistent or calm, then don't fight it.
Because if you give in at the end, or even if you 'win' but
the relationship is harmed because of the difficult battle,
then the loss is greater than the gain.
'Giving in' on a lot of these issues is not spoiling; it just
prevents a lot of unnecessary conflict, and the issues are so
petty. Like a child who won't eat a broken cookie even though
"it tastes the same in your tummy," who won't let one food
touch another on his plate, or won't eat what someone else
has touched, will only eat from a certain bowl, or use a
certain spoon. A favorite is not finishing their food, or not
eating what they asked for.
Young children often want everything on offer (in the same
quantities as everyone else — and you can't fool them),
though you know that many of these items are disliked, or
that the child does not have a big enough appetite to finish
everything off. So you might be tempted to say, 'If you ask
for it, you will have to eat it.' Don't be tempted. Give it
and know that you will have to take it away again.
There seems no end to the child's mishugasim. Most of
them are normal, and most of them he will outgrow on his own.
Other issues, that he does not outgrow, will be easier to
discuss with him when he's older. Even the annoying habit of
always wanting an older sibling's bottle or toy. It can be
very easy to explain to a five-year-old that s/he loses
nothing by giving the thing to the younger one (and when he
was the 'younger one' others had to give up to him). The less
fuss made the better, because the fuss REINFORCES this
The older one just gives it up, and gets a replacement. If
the 'older one' is a three-year-old, then be prepared to get
two of a lot of basic things! As the child matures, one sees
a lot of this behavior stop, especially if it was not getting
him undue attention. At the right moment, you can put your
foot down and say, 'No, that belongs to Soro, you have to
wait/play with something else.' The 'foot' needs to be
applied to an issue worth fighting about, not the color of a
bottle. And then 'the battle' must be with calmness and
consistency. In this case, you have to take into account that
the other children will become upset that he is being
'punished,' and will want to give in for the sake of peace.
So you need to take the 'temperature' of the situation and
decide whether it is a good time to fight it out.
Are you particularly tired now? Is the child? Do you have
time now or are you pressured? Are the other children going
to make it difficult for you to carry through?
Hardly saying 'no' to a young child is not spoiling him. It's
just that the issues are not worth fighting about, and having
so many battles is exhausting for both of you. Building a
strong relationship with the child is more important. As long
as the child understands that when you DO say 'no' you mean
it. There's an old saying, "When I had no children, I had ten
principles; now I have ten children and no principles!"
"Principles" like the ones above are just not principles. The
Torah gives us plenty of principles (mitzvos) worth
arguing about. And even those have an idea of age-readiness,
and are better received in a pleasant and non-confrontational