When children have too many choices

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 23, 2009 06:00 AM

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Question: My daughter has a 2 1/2-year-old son. We think he is pretty smart for his age. He is talking in complete sentences. But he also experiences tantrums and does not sleep well. I think my daughter parents from guilt and that has contributed to his sleep problems.

This is my question: She asks his opinion on everything. I have suggested that she not do this all the time, that he is a little boy who does not need to make decisions all the time. For example, we were at a restaurant recently and the waitress asked my daughter did she want his meal now or should she bring it with everyone else's meal. My daughter turned and asked my 2 1/2 y.o. grandson the same question. I thought it was ridiculous to ask him and that being the MOM she should answer the question. Not a decision he needs to make!! She does this all the time. I'm afraid that she is creating anxiety in him because he sometimes goes back and forth. Another example is asking him if he wanted to walk into town or ride in the stoller. He couldn't make up his mind which turned into a tantrum. What do you think?
From: Deborah, Marstons Mill

Hi Deborah,

I do agree with you, there is a limit to when and how to involve children in decision-making. In general, children at all ages benefit from the opportunity to make age-appropriate decisions and to feel some sense of control over their lives. The trick is to know what is "age appropriate." When the decisions are beyond their level of ability or cognition, or when their sixth sense tells them that a parent is giving them choices and/or control for the wrong reasons, they end up feeling anxious and insecure. And that, in turn, can contribute to a whole array of behaviors that could include tantrums and sleep issues. It is, of course, a pattern of these behaviors by the parents that could have these results, not an occasional occurrence.

It's similar to the way children of all ages feel most secure when they know what their (again, age-appropriate) limits are, when those limits are consistent and when there are consistent consequences for infractions.

So what's an appropriate time to consult with a 2 1/2-year-old for his or her opinion? What color shirt does he want to wear today, red or blue? Does she want her bedtime story before or after her bath? Does she want one cookie or two?

By the way, you and your daughter might find this previous post about parenting styles helpful.


I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
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35 comments so far...
  1. I feel a little sorry for a daughter whose mom is so harsh and critical of her parenting style.

    Posted by just_cos October 23, 09 11:00 AM
  1. I think that the Mom was asking a very "age appropriate" question to her son at the restaurant. Now, I would have a problem if the Mom asked her son if he would like to "take a bath & brush his teeth" tonight...I have a 3 1/2 year old son and I have found the best thing I can do for him is to make him as independent as possible while at the same time knowing he has limits. I am the parent, end of story but I am not a bully and I also do not need to make every decision for my child if he is fully capable of making them himself. This Grandma needs to back off a little.

    Posted by E October 23, 09 11:37 AM
  1. Barbara- I'd love to hear you address the other parenting issue here, the one between the letter writer and adult daughter. What are reasonable boundries for the Grandmother to comment on this type of thing? There is probably a point where her "help" is undermining the Mom's authority and introducing more stress.

    Posted by walking a mile October 23, 09 11:45 AM
  1. I think it is important to let you children make appropriate decisions. For example, your grown daughter should probably make decisions about how involved and empowered she wants her son to be. If you make all your decisions for your children, it may be hard for them to make their own decisions later, or you may find yourself surprised when they make decisions without consulting you. You may even find your children making choices different than your own for the first time when it really matters -- like about college or partners.

    If she asks for your opinion or advice, that would be a good time to offer it!

    Posted by Brenda October 23, 09 11:57 AM
  1. When my now 5 year old was that age, 2 to 3, often getting her input and offering choices was the best way to get her cooperation in things she didn't have control over. IE - we're going out to do errands and we're eating in this restaurant, do you want fruit or broccoli? Or whatever. But, she was 2 to 3 years old, and sometimes the choosing could be too much. What my mom did, quietly, a couple times, that was very kind and supportive and helpful, was conversationally reply "I don't think she knows right now" or a similar response to my question to my daughter. Which just helped the conversation move along, so I could choose, my kid could cope, and my mom wasn't making grand sweeping critical comments about my parenting style. Which created less anxiety all around.

    Posted by 12buckleshoe October 23, 09 11:59 AM
  1. I'm surprised that people would take offense that this grandmother cares enough about helping her daughter and grandson through a challenging time that she seeks outside advice. I'm so happy to hear she cares so much. Grandparents have a wealth of experience and perspective. Unfortunately in today's mobile society, they are often too far away to be of assistance. I think Deborah's daughter is lucky.

    I also think grandparents sometimes sit back a little too much, for fear of offending their grown children. They are family, after all! What's wrong with a difference of opinion, if that occurs? I think children as a whole are better off when more people care about their welfare, not less. I also wonder how many cases of abuse could have been prevented or curtailed if grandparents spoke up to their children, or even sought outside help?

    Posted by just1voice October 23, 09 01:21 PM
  1. "Red shirt or blue shirt" kind of decision-making is good practice for the future BUT in situations where an outsider is involved - especially a busy waitress with many customers to attend to - mom needs to make the decision herself, and quickly. I have a few friends who are similar to the mom described and I find it terribly rude that they seem to expect (and are teaching their children to expect) the world to wait with baited breath while the little darling dithers about french fries versus cole slaw.

    And in food situations in particular, hungry children are not in the best frame of mind to even be ABLE to decide about anything.

    Posted by amyfaith October 23, 09 01:38 PM
  1. It sounds like the grandmother may not have given her daughter many choices growing up so her daughter is going the other extreme with her grandson.

    Similarly, my mother in law is very controlling and my sister in law lets her daughter decide everything. I'm not sure if it's because she's trying to go the other extreme or if it's because she is used to someone else making all the decisions - first her mother and then her daughter!

    Posted by Melissa October 23, 09 01:51 PM
  1. I agree with amyfaith 100%.

    I also think there's a lot more to this story. Would I have done things differently than this mom at the restaurant? Yes. Is it a huge deal? No. Giving him a choice to walk or ride in a stroller? Totally appropriate. So I wonder what else is going on here that would cause a grandmother to write a note asking for advice on her daughter's parenting.

    2.5 year-olds have tantrums. Even smart, generally well-behaved ones. Often, the tantrums start when you DON'T give them any choices at all. At least, that's the case with my 2.5 year-old son. We give him very limited, age-appropriate choices, and he likes to think he has input.

    I wonder what the sleep problems are here. Some people really do get guilted into their children's nighttime demands when that's really not the way to go. Slippery slope and then nobody gets the rest they need. This could be the biggest problem, but I wouldn't know from the grandmother's letter.

    Posted by JK October 23, 09 03:57 PM
  1. why are so many people slamming the grandmother? She is not saying she knows it all (she probably does through experience) - she is asking for advice. Those who are slamming her are probably know-it-all-through-books new moms themselves! Amyfaith is right -- let your little darling make choices when YOU have all the time in the world, not other people in the world. Yes, age-appropriateness is the most important point here. Kids can't process ALL choices, only some... so let them be children for a little longer; God knows they have enough choices to decide on as they grow up.

    Posted by chins October 23, 09 04:56 PM
  1. I also agreey with Amyfaith 100%--the poor child is asked to make too many decisions, too soon--obvious by the tantrum--if it was so "good forhim"--then why the tantrum? Doesn't the tantrum signal distress?

    Posted by cvana October 23, 09 06:12 PM
  1. There are really two levels to this thing. One the one hand, one approach may be better than another approach, and who knows, Grandmother may know best! But on another level, rules, limits, and parenting approaches need to be set by one source, and that's the parents. Even if someone else such as a grandparent is right about detail X or detail Y, it's important that the parents be in charge of bringing up their kids without outside meddling or second guessing. Otherwise, it can only give rise to resentment and resistance on the part of the parents, and confusion on the part of the grandchildren.

    It sounds like the Deborah (who seems well-meaning, let's not forget!) already raised the issue with the daughter. So why, then, submit the question to this forum? Sounds like maybe she couldn't just let it go, and wanted to get a third party to back her up.

    The best thing grandparents can do is show their grandkids unconditional love and support in spades, and let the parents handle the rules and boundaries. Give parenting advice, but realize that's it's just that--advice-- and if the parents choose not to follow it, you've got to let it go...

    Posted by Bill October 23, 09 09:03 PM
  1. Appears this reveals more about the mother than the child- mom needs the help and I don't mean a nanny.

    Posted by sceesic October 23, 09 10:58 PM
  1. Wrong on restaurant dilemma...question to child should have been
    "Are you hungry", then have the parent make the decision. Having the
    child try to understand an adult restaurant decision like timing of food
    is crazy.

    Posted by ac October 24, 09 08:39 AM
  1. two cookies!

    Posted by Rob October 24, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Don't forget that as children turn into adolescents, they don't always make the right choices. If they are told that they always have the choice, then they turn out thinking that they're empowered, and then balk at being told what to do. They also need to be taught that with the right to make decisions comes responsibility. Giving a 2 1/2 year-old choices about things that he may or may not be well-informed about is wrong. For example, "walker vs. stroller" may have more consequences than he may realize, as the parent is likely to have more information about the afternoon and realize that the afternoon is going to entail a lot of travel, and that the child will become cranky as he gets tired from walking. In that case, the parent doesn't need to fully explain her choice; the child should see that the parent can make good decisions about such things and that these decisions are not to be questioned. Raising children is not about empowering them, it's about teaching them to make the right decisions. However, at 2 1/2, they don't normally know what the right decision is and then need to be shown through example. The parent should be the correct example. Make some damned decisions, you're the parent.

    Posted by funkifized October 24, 09 09:25 AM
  1. Please go easy on this grandmother. She is frustrated and I understand it totally. My closest friend always consulted her daughter on decisions when she was as young as two. Decisions that quite frankly shouldn't or couldn't be made by a two year old. It became the focus of outings with them and honestly just annoying. Yes the child can answer questions but does he have to decide all the time? Would it also be ok if this 2 1/2 year old deciding that running around the restaurant and throwing food was ok? This grandmother is probably tired of her grandchild being treated as an adult. there's nothing worse than parents that act as though their kids are their friends. I'm a mother of two young boys and honestly it's not up to them if their food comes with the adult food or not. It's up to the adults to assess if the child needs to eat immediately or if they can wait.

    Posted by enolamr October 24, 09 09:51 AM
  1. your daughter obviously thinks you raised her wrong.

    Posted by babyv October 24, 09 11:03 AM
  1. A 2 1/2 y.o. is NOT equipped to make the decisions this mom is forcing him to make. He doesn't have the life experience needed to do this. The red shirt/blue shirt type of decision is a great starting point & progressing SLOWLY from there is a good route. The key words here are "age appropriate". It has nothing to do with control. I encountered this situation, not in the mother/daughter context, but with a friend who allowed her child endless choices at an early age, ending up with a frustrated mom and over-anxious child due to many poor choices resulting in a child who didn't trust herself to make decisions.

    Posted by Chuckles813 October 24, 09 11:33 AM
  1. WHOA Grandma Ferber or is it Grandma Sears? "I think my daughter parents from guilt and that has contributed to his sleep problems. " That was a quite a stinging comment which almost all of you (including Barbara) chose to ignore.

    No matter which approach you believe in about sleep problems/solutions, Dr Ferber or Dr. Sears, nothing is said by either of them about GUILT. I suggest granny back off and mind her own business. There is however a belief that if using the Ferber method a child may be less likely to throw bedtime tantrums.

    That said, the daughter needs to learn to be a parent and request only simple easy types of questions from a child that age,

    Father of 3 and 6 year old (who don't throw tantrums)

    Posted by drneutrino October 24, 09 04:58 PM
  1. I agree that a child of 2 1/2 should be making some decisions, aka the blue vs red shirt. But asking a child to make decisions that he or she may not be ready to make does invite anxiety to take root, resulting in tantrums, which are the natural way a child of that age will express displeasure or discomfort. This child is experiencing emotional distress that could ease if the mother takes more appropriate control. She may not understand where a 2 year old is developmentally, no matter how precocious he or she may seem.

    I believe the grandmother is right to be concerned about stressing the child. I also believe there is tension between grandmother and mother over other issues. I don't understand the statement about parenting out of guilt.

    My mother passed on when I was twenty-one. If only she had been at my side when I gave birth and raised my three children, now young adults. I relied on friends for advice - I wish I had a grandmother, who obviously cares very much about her grandchild, to offer advice. Books only get you so far . . . .

    Posted by portiaperu October 24, 09 06:39 PM
  1. As the mother of a 2 year old in a similar situation (a mother-in-law who thinks she knows better) I have to say that Deborah needs to let her daughter learn how to be a mother on her own. Giving advice is always appreciated, but once a mother decides that she wants to do something her own way the grandparents need to respect that. Deborah says in her letter that she has already given advice to her daughter and it is apparent her daughter does not agree. Deborah is obviously looking for someone to enable her to go to her daughter and say, "See I told you so!" and I don't think Barbara is helping matters in that regard.

    I imagine it is difficult for grandparents to see what they think are mistakes in parenting, but unless they feel their grandchild is being abused they need to let the parents figure things out on their own. Nagging isn't appreciated and might alienate people.

    Posted by Sympathizes with mommy October 24, 09 09:10 PM
  1. Amyfaith's comment hits the nail on the head
    "and I find it terribly rude that they seem to expect (and are teaching their children to expect) the world to wait with baited breath while the little darling dithers about french fries versus cole slaw"
    I recently began reading a great book titled "the Narcissism Epidemic" which addressess this very issue, among others. Parenting styles have changed over the past 30 years and that is most likely what accounts for the difference of opinion between grandma and mom. The bottom line though, as Amyfaith puts it, is that by giving children too much control over their lives (or should I say age innappropriate control) we are perpetuating the lesson that the world should revolve around an individual.
    I have several years experience working with young children and now have one of my own. I am concerned about the increase in materialism that I have seen over the past decade as I have matured, and the negative effects it can have on a developing young mind. I would encourage any parent (new or practiced) to take the time to read this book. It will open your eyes to the ways in which technology, material goods, and yes, even giving children too many choices, can have a negative impact on not only the individual involved but many others around them for many years into the future.
    (BTW - the authors even discuss the impact of being able to comment on news articles such as this on a person's view of themselves - or rather their opinions - as being important and relevant to everyone who reads them! I guess we're all susceptible to a little narcissism!!!)

    Posted by againstthetide October 25, 09 12:53 AM
  1. This question exemplifies the two problems of the current parenting generation. Parents who who struggle to find the right balance of choice vs decision making AND grandparents who assume they know best. I see it time and time again. Unless the mother is asking for your help, please grandma ease up on the judgement. She will make different mistakes that your generation and that is okay...

    Posted by mamaofthree October 25, 09 06:36 AM
  1. The grandmother is correct here, in my opinion. Giving a toddler all the choices all the time is just inviting the door open to those tantrums.

    Posted by elaine October 25, 09 08:01 AM
  1. Very dumb mother. In a restaurant, always let the kids food come early if offered.

    Try going to dinner with 4 kids ranging from 3 to 10. Do you think I ask each one of them whether they want to eat sooner (or if they are hungry -- although usually parents know without asking)? Even older kids have trouble sitting still and when you involve siblings the sooner the food comes the better! This allows the adults have a better time in the restaurant.

    The mom needs a filter, clearly she doesn't have enough confidence in making decisions for her child that she needs to involve him in the decision making progress. Common with many parents that want to be friends with their kids.

    Posted by Debra R. October 25, 09 11:01 AM
  1. Jeepers, a couple of pretty defensive mommies in this group! Frankly, I think the grandmother was right. I'm tired of waiting until the youngest (often toddler)makes a decision that affects the whole group

    Posted by FransBevy October 25, 09 02:31 PM
  1. Agree with grandma here. This is not about a mother-daughter relationship, it's about what's appropriate to expect of a toddler. As the mother of children in high school and middle school, I can say that it won't be long at all before the child has plenty of pressure and plenty of choices to make. Let the little ones be children and believe, just for a while longer, that mommy (or daddy) knows best. That's what makes children feel safe and cared for.

    Posted by Ashley October 25, 09 08:32 PM
  1. "I feel a little sorry for a daughter whose mom is so harsh and critical of her parenting style. " HARSH AND CRITICAL? Are you nuts? If you think that in expressing her concerns the grandmother was either harsh OR critical, I hope to god you don't have kids and/or that I never have to deal with them.

    You mommies who are offended are so incredibly lame, poor parents and most importantly annoying to all around you. The Gram is right, but she doesn't dare tell her daughter because she's bewildered by her shtty parenting and afraid of the consequences because she's immature.

    If only these nerd minivan driving husbands had a pair to keep 'em line this is how it'd go:

    1) (mom to kid) honey, do you want your meal w/everyone elses?
    2) blank stare from kid who doesn't/shouldn't give a s**t
    3) dad laughs and says "give me a break the kid'll have it whenever - he's hungry, he's a kid, and this is the 99 not Grill 23."
    4) mom, initially offended but then embarassed, logs onto facebook on her iphone, connects with a "friend" to rant about how poorly dinner is going.
    5) BEST OF ALL, Grandma is thrilled someone still has some f'ing common sense and rests at ease knowing her daughter (or in-law) may not completely destroy the kid after all.

    Posted by Oh how UNFAIR! October 25, 09 10:08 PM
  1. OK - Only in this country we want our 2 year old to behave like adults. We all know that we want them to be independent as adults but how about we gradually introduce the decision making process to them. In most eastern countries - China, Korea Japan, India the kids get potty trained by 18 months while our kids are pooping in their diapers till they are 4 - why because hell they will tell us when they are ready! It boggles my mind how much we have taken child rearing to another extreme. We are raising the most coddled kids of all times - I have to wait to see the amazing adults that will become of them. Get a grip ladies, strike a balance - don't burden a 2 year old with all their decisions, there is a reason you are their guardian - take control so the kid can fall back on you also.

    Go easy on the grandma, please! The poor woman is only asking for advice - she is the grand -"mother" after all - I guess in this culture that means "keep your mouth shut"!

    Posted by Angela October 25, 09 11:15 PM
  1. My problem with the Grandmother, the mother, the advice, and the comments is the assumption that all 2.5 year olds are alike.

    My response to my own two children on this issue differed, because they were individually different and needed and could handle different decision levels. My older son is very independent and needed decisions to make, no matter how inconsequential. He would decide quickly. My younger guy was more typical in that he could get stuck if given too much to sort out at once. Their individual temperments persist to this day - my now teen is very independent, but knows his privilege to make decisions will disappear if he makes irresponsible choices. The younger one still craves structure, order, etc. or his day can fall apart. The elder travels well and craves NEW, the younger one likes to stay near home. I wouldn't dream of treating them like robots!

    Of course, 90% of any and all issues is ensuring that they don't get too hungry or tired, and paying attention to when they do. Period. Both are a recipe for disaster - poor sleep, tantrums, etc. If a kid is tired, hungry, cranky, etc., a parent should avoid giving the kid any decisions to make. Address the tried/hungry/cranky first. Parents must be on duty here ... bring a little one along, and that little one's needs will dictate the pace and content of the day - that's what you signed on for.

    Posted by Infoferret October 26, 09 07:53 AM
  1. The problem here is the grandmothers' inability to let go, her embarrassment of her grandchild's tantrums and her blaming "guilt" for her daughters poor parenting. It's clear the grandmother is RIGHT about NOT giving the kids choice in ridiculous situations. One of the prime reasons for tantrums is hungry and tired. These also cause numerous other issues. The kid gets FED first, PERIOD! Taking a tired 2 1/2 child to a restaurant is an INSANE idea!

    Here are some other causes of tantrums which apparently the MOTHER is ignoring
    # Frustration, often due to limited language, or lacking the skills to complete tasks, for example getting stuck with a jumper half-way on, or a piece of puzzle that won’t fit.
    # Being hungry or tired
    # Wanting things they can’t have – whether it’s sweets at the checkout, one more video, or a friend’s toy.
    # Wanting independence – To walk, not ride in the buggy, to choose her own clothes, or to brush his own teeth.
    # Over-stimulation – common during exciting events like parties or Christmas.
    # Attention seeking - if previous tantrums got lots of attention, this can become a pattern as kids grow.
    # Emotional overload - when trying to cope with the world and the many new experiences a toddler has every day just feels like too much.

    Posted by Stay at Home Dad October 26, 09 08:14 AM
  1. The question about whether or not the mother should ask the kid's opinion on everything is a good topic of discussion for the mother and grandma. However, what really bothers me (and probably bothers the mother) is the grandma's jump to the conclusion that the mother is parenting from guilt and causing the kid anxiety and sleeping issues. That's quite an unsubstantiated leap!

    Posted by Diane L October 26, 09 08:23 AM
  1. I agree with the poster that suggested that Barbara follow up on this discussion and comment about Grandmothers and their role in raising children.

    I do agree that too many options may overwhelm a child. However, what are reasonable boundaries for a grandmother's role in a child's development? If a grandmother goes to the parent and gives advice, that's great. Many parents need guidance and such advice is welcome. However, if a parent has listened to that advice and has decided on something different (as Deborah's letter suggests) at what point does a grandmother need to back off? She isn't the mother anymore.

    Now to address questions as to why people are defending the mother? First, Deborah's letter is written in such a manner that suggests she doesn't think much of her daughter. (She parents from guilt and that's why my grandchild can't sleep. I've talked to her about they way I think she should raise my grandchild but she doesn't listen so I'm going to write the Globe and show her I'm right) Second, Deborah's daughter isn't here to defend herself and so someone should. It's hard enough to be a parent without outside interference.

    Posted by Sympathizes with mommy October 26, 09 01:18 PM
  1. I live next door to my grandparents and they are old. They are healthy and get around as if they were young. My mother comes over several days a week to see them, which means she sees me and my 4 year old son also. I am overwhelmed with advice of parenting from both parties. All I notice is that my son behaves well when it's just us. When they are involved or around my child, he grows horns and a pointed tail. I am belittled constantly. If I tell them not to give him sugar, they do anyway because that's what grandparents do. I have hypertension and so does my son. No suger over here at my home and he behaves much better. I think that grandparents or even great grandparents think that they always know better that you do. In all cases. But, here is something to consider, a child is a product of both parents, and then a product of himself also. I know my childs father very well. They don't. I also know my child better than they do and I know myself. There won't be greatgrandparent or grandparents soon, if they don't back off of what I say. What I say is the law with my child as far as I"m concerned. Grandparents are retired and excited that they have grandchildren. They are soooo proud that they have spawned another generation of themselves. They show pictures and talk about their grandchildren constantly. They are very concerned because they don't have anything other than to be involved to do. They are soooo proud. They gave birth to you and you gave birth to such a beautiful child. They don't see that you had anything to do with it. They think this is all because of them and that they have control. Well, I'm here to tell you, YOU DON"T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Incase of an emergency the parents get the first call and all of the decisions that go along with it. NOT YOU! If your daughter asks you for advice, give it to her. Other than that, leave her alone with her parenting, unless the child is in danger. I don't think that the child was in danger at the restuaraunt. He probably threw a fit because he sensed the tension between the two of you. I can understand a parent choosing different methods of raising thier own child than the way that their parents raised them. World got bigger and expects more of a child in order for that child to succeed. Leave the parents alone and respect their rules and ways of raising the child. If you don't, you will eventually lose your child and your grandchild completely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    That's what my family has done to themselves. You are causeing more harm than good.

    Posted by Sloane Craft November 26, 09 01:42 AM
 
35 comments so far...
  1. I feel a little sorry for a daughter whose mom is so harsh and critical of her parenting style.

    Posted by just_cos October 23, 09 11:00 AM
  1. I think that the Mom was asking a very "age appropriate" question to her son at the restaurant. Now, I would have a problem if the Mom asked her son if he would like to "take a bath & brush his teeth" tonight...I have a 3 1/2 year old son and I have found the best thing I can do for him is to make him as independent as possible while at the same time knowing he has limits. I am the parent, end of story but I am not a bully and I also do not need to make every decision for my child if he is fully capable of making them himself. This Grandma needs to back off a little.

    Posted by E October 23, 09 11:37 AM
  1. Barbara- I'd love to hear you address the other parenting issue here, the one between the letter writer and adult daughter. What are reasonable boundries for the Grandmother to comment on this type of thing? There is probably a point where her "help" is undermining the Mom's authority and introducing more stress.

    Posted by walking a mile October 23, 09 11:45 AM
  1. I think it is important to let you children make appropriate decisions. For example, your grown daughter should probably make decisions about how involved and empowered she wants her son to be. If you make all your decisions for your children, it may be hard for them to make their own decisions later, or you may find yourself surprised when they make decisions without consulting you. You may even find your children making choices different than your own for the first time when it really matters -- like about college or partners.

    If she asks for your opinion or advice, that would be a good time to offer it!

    Posted by Brenda October 23, 09 11:57 AM
  1. When my now 5 year old was that age, 2 to 3, often getting her input and offering choices was the best way to get her cooperation in things she didn't have control over. IE - we're going out to do errands and we're eating in this restaurant, do you want fruit or broccoli? Or whatever. But, she was 2 to 3 years old, and sometimes the choosing could be too much. What my mom did, quietly, a couple times, that was very kind and supportive and helpful, was conversationally reply "I don't think she knows right now" or a similar response to my question to my daughter. Which just helped the conversation move along, so I could choose, my kid could cope, and my mom wasn't making grand sweeping critical comments about my parenting style. Which created less anxiety all around.

    Posted by 12buckleshoe October 23, 09 11:59 AM
  1. I'm surprised that people would take offense that this grandmother cares enough about helping her daughter and grandson through a challenging time that she seeks outside advice. I'm so happy to hear she cares so much. Grandparents have a wealth of experience and perspective. Unfortunately in today's mobile society, they are often too far away to be of assistance. I think Deborah's daughter is lucky.

    I also think grandparents sometimes sit back a little too much, for fear of offending their grown children. They are family, after all! What's wrong with a difference of opinion, if that occurs? I think children as a whole are better off when more people care about their welfare, not less. I also wonder how many cases of abuse could have been prevented or curtailed if grandparents spoke up to their children, or even sought outside help?

    Posted by just1voice October 23, 09 01:21 PM
  1. "Red shirt or blue shirt" kind of decision-making is good practice for the future BUT in situations where an outsider is involved - especially a busy waitress with many customers to attend to - mom needs to make the decision herself, and quickly. I have a few friends who are similar to the mom described and I find it terribly rude that they seem to expect (and are teaching their children to expect) the world to wait with baited breath while the little darling dithers about french fries versus cole slaw.

    And in food situations in particular, hungry children are not in the best frame of mind to even be ABLE to decide about anything.

    Posted by amyfaith October 23, 09 01:38 PM
  1. It sounds like the grandmother may not have given her daughter many choices growing up so her daughter is going the other extreme with her grandson.

    Similarly, my mother in law is very controlling and my sister in law lets her daughter decide everything. I'm not sure if it's because she's trying to go the other extreme or if it's because she is used to someone else making all the decisions - first her mother and then her daughter!

    Posted by Melissa October 23, 09 01:51 PM
  1. I agree with amyfaith 100%.

    I also think there's a lot more to this story. Would I have done things differently than this mom at the restaurant? Yes. Is it a huge deal? No. Giving him a choice to walk or ride in a stroller? Totally appropriate. So I wonder what else is going on here that would cause a grandmother to write a note asking for advice on her daughter's parenting.

    2.5 year-olds have tantrums. Even smart, generally well-behaved ones. Often, the tantrums start when you DON'T give them any choices at all. At least, that's the case with my 2.5 year-old son. We give him very limited, age-appropriate choices, and he likes to think he has input.

    I wonder what the sleep problems are here. Some people really do get guilted into their children's nighttime demands when that's really not the way to go. Slippery slope and then nobody gets the rest they need. This could be the biggest problem, but I wouldn't know from the grandmother's letter.

    Posted by JK October 23, 09 03:57 PM
  1. why are so many people slamming the grandmother? She is not saying she knows it all (she probably does through experience) - she is asking for advice. Those who are slamming her are probably know-it-all-through-books new moms themselves! Amyfaith is right -- let your little darling make choices when YOU have all the time in the world, not other people in the world. Yes, age-appropriateness is the most important point here. Kids can't process ALL choices, only some... so let them be children for a little longer; God knows they have enough choices to decide on as they grow up.

    Posted by chins October 23, 09 04:56 PM
  1. I also agreey with Amyfaith 100%--the poor child is asked to make too many decisions, too soon--obvious by the tantrum--if it was so "good forhim"--then why the tantrum? Doesn't the tantrum signal distress?

    Posted by cvana October 23, 09 06:12 PM
  1. There are really two levels to this thing. One the one hand, one approach may be better than another approach, and who knows, Grandmother may know best! But on another level, rules, limits, and parenting approaches need to be set by one source, and that's the parents. Even if someone else such as a grandparent is right about detail X or detail Y, it's important that the parents be in charge of bringing up their kids without outside meddling or second guessing. Otherwise, it can only give rise to resentment and resistance on the part of the parents, and confusion on the part of the grandchildren.

    It sounds like the Deborah (who seems well-meaning, let's not forget!) already raised the issue with the daughter. So why, then, submit the question to this forum? Sounds like maybe she couldn't just let it go, and wanted to get a third party to back her up.

    The best thing grandparents can do is show their grandkids unconditional love and support in spades, and let the parents handle the rules and boundaries. Give parenting advice, but realize that's it's just that--advice-- and if the parents choose not to follow it, you've got to let it go...

    Posted by Bill October 23, 09 09:03 PM
  1. Appears this reveals more about the mother than the child- mom needs the help and I don't mean a nanny.

    Posted by sceesic October 23, 09 10:58 PM
  1. Wrong on restaurant dilemma...question to child should have been
    "Are you hungry", then have the parent make the decision. Having the
    child try to understand an adult restaurant decision like timing of food
    is crazy.

    Posted by ac October 24, 09 08:39 AM
  1. two cookies!

    Posted by Rob October 24, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Don't forget that as children turn into adolescents, they don't always make the right choices. If they are told that they always have the choice, then they turn out thinking that they're empowered, and then balk at being told what to do. They also need to be taught that with the right to make decisions comes responsibility. Giving a 2 1/2 year-old choices about things that he may or may not be well-informed about is wrong. For example, "walker vs. stroller" may have more consequences than he may realize, as the parent is likely to have more information about the afternoon and realize that the afternoon is going to entail a lot of travel, and that the child will become cranky as he gets tired from walking. In that case, the parent doesn't need to fully explain her choice; the child should see that the parent can make good decisions about such things and that these decisions are not to be questioned. Raising children is not about empowering them, it's about teaching them to make the right decisions. However, at 2 1/2, they don't normally know what the right decision is and then need to be shown through example. The parent should be the correct example. Make some damned decisions, you're the parent.

    Posted by funkifized October 24, 09 09:25 AM
  1. Please go easy on this grandmother. She is frustrated and I understand it totally. My closest friend always consulted her daughter on decisions when she was as young as two. Decisions that quite frankly shouldn't or couldn't be made by a two year old. It became the focus of outings with them and honestly just annoying. Yes the child can answer questions but does he have to decide all the time? Would it also be ok if this 2 1/2 year old deciding that running around the restaurant and throwing food was ok? This grandmother is probably tired of her grandchild being treated as an adult. there's nothing worse than parents that act as though their kids are their friends. I'm a mother of two young boys and honestly it's not up to them if their food comes with the adult food or not. It's up to the adults to assess if the child needs to eat immediately or if they can wait.

    Posted by enolamr October 24, 09 09:51 AM
  1. your daughter obviously thinks you raised her wrong.

    Posted by babyv October 24, 09 11:03 AM
  1. A 2 1/2 y.o. is NOT equipped to make the decisions this mom is forcing him to make. He doesn't have the life experience needed to do this. The red shirt/blue shirt type of decision is a great starting point & progressing SLOWLY from there is a good route. The key words here are "age appropriate". It has nothing to do with control. I encountered this situation, not in the mother/daughter context, but with a friend who allowed her child endless choices at an early age, ending up with a frustrated mom and over-anxious child due to many poor choices resulting in a child who didn't trust herself to make decisions.

    Posted by Chuckles813 October 24, 09 11:33 AM
  1. WHOA Grandma Ferber or is it Grandma Sears? "I think my daughter parents from guilt and that has contributed to his sleep problems. " That was a quite a stinging comment which almost all of you (including Barbara) chose to ignore.

    No matter which approach you believe in about sleep problems/solutions, Dr Ferber or Dr. Sears, nothing is said by either of them about GUILT. I suggest granny back off and mind her own business. There is however a belief that if using the Ferber method a child may be less likely to throw bedtime tantrums.

    That said, the daughter needs to learn to be a parent and request only simple easy types of questions from a child that age,

    Father of 3 and 6 year old (who don't throw tantrums)

    Posted by drneutrino October 24, 09 04:58 PM
  1. I agree that a child of 2 1/2 should be making some decisions, aka the blue vs red shirt. But asking a child to make decisions that he or she may not be ready to make does invite anxiety to take root, resulting in tantrums, which are the natural way a child of that age will express displeasure or discomfort. This child is experiencing emotional distress that could ease if the mother takes more appropriate control. She may not understand where a 2 year old is developmentally, no matter how precocious he or she may seem.

    I believe the grandmother is right to be concerned about stressing the child. I also believe there is tension between grandmother and mother over other issues. I don't understand the statement about parenting out of guilt.

    My mother passed on when I was twenty-one. If only she had been at my side when I gave birth and raised my three children, now young adults. I relied on friends for advice - I wish I had a grandmother, who obviously cares very much about her grandchild, to offer advice. Books only get you so far . . . .

    Posted by portiaperu October 24, 09 06:39 PM
  1. As the mother of a 2 year old in a similar situation (a mother-in-law who thinks she knows better) I have to say that Deborah needs to let her daughter learn how to be a mother on her own. Giving advice is always appreciated, but once a mother decides that she wants to do something her own way the grandparents need to respect that. Deborah says in her letter that she has already given advice to her daughter and it is apparent her daughter does not agree. Deborah is obviously looking for someone to enable her to go to her daughter and say, "See I told you so!" and I don't think Barbara is helping matters in that regard.

    I imagine it is difficult for grandparents to see what they think are mistakes in parenting, but unless they feel their grandchild is being abused they need to let the parents figure things out on their own. Nagging isn't appreciated and might alienate people.

    Posted by Sympathizes with mommy October 24, 09 09:10 PM
  1. Amyfaith's comment hits the nail on the head
    "and I find it terribly rude that they seem to expect (and are teaching their children to expect) the world to wait with baited breath while the little darling dithers about french fries versus cole slaw"
    I recently began reading a great book titled "the Narcissism Epidemic" which addressess this very issue, among others. Parenting styles have changed over the past 30 years and that is most likely what accounts for the difference of opinion between grandma and mom. The bottom line though, as Amyfaith puts it, is that by giving children too much control over their lives (or should I say age innappropriate control) we are perpetuating the lesson that the world should revolve around an individual.
    I have several years experience working with young children and now have one of my own. I am concerned about the increase in materialism that I have seen over the past decade as I have matured, and the negative effects it can have on a developing young mind. I would encourage any parent (new or practiced) to take the time to read this book. It will open your eyes to the ways in which technology, material goods, and yes, even giving children too many choices, can have a negative impact on not only the individual involved but many others around them for many years into the future.
    (BTW - the authors even discuss the impact of being able to comment on news articles such as this on a person's view of themselves - or rather their opinions - as being important and relevant to everyone who reads them! I guess we're all susceptible to a little narcissism!!!)

    Posted by againstthetide October 25, 09 12:53 AM
  1. This question exemplifies the two problems of the current parenting generation. Parents who who struggle to find the right balance of choice vs decision making AND grandparents who assume they know best. I see it time and time again. Unless the mother is asking for your help, please grandma ease up on the judgement. She will make different mistakes that your generation and that is okay...

    Posted by mamaofthree October 25, 09 06:36 AM
  1. The grandmother is correct here, in my opinion. Giving a toddler all the choices all the time is just inviting the door open to those tantrums.

    Posted by elaine October 25, 09 08:01 AM
  1. Very dumb mother. In a restaurant, always let the kids food come early if offered.

    Try going to dinner with 4 kids ranging from 3 to 10. Do you think I ask each one of them whether they want to eat sooner (or if they are hungry -- although usually parents know without asking)? Even older kids have trouble sitting still and when you involve siblings the sooner the food comes the better! This allows the adults have a better time in the restaurant.

    The mom needs a filter, clearly she doesn't have enough confidence in making decisions for her child that she needs to involve him in the decision making progress. Common with many parents that want to be friends with their kids.

    Posted by Debra R. October 25, 09 11:01 AM
  1. Jeepers, a couple of pretty defensive mommies in this group! Frankly, I think the grandmother was right. I'm tired of waiting until the youngest (often toddler)makes a decision that affects the whole group

    Posted by FransBevy October 25, 09 02:31 PM
  1. Agree with grandma here. This is not about a mother-daughter relationship, it's about what's appropriate to expect of a toddler. As the mother of children in high school and middle school, I can say that it won't be long at all before the child has plenty of pressure and plenty of choices to make. Let the little ones be children and believe, just for a while longer, that mommy (or daddy) knows best. That's what makes children feel safe and cared for.

    Posted by Ashley October 25, 09 08:32 PM
  1. "I feel a little sorry for a daughter whose mom is so harsh and critical of her parenting style. " HARSH AND CRITICAL? Are you nuts? If you think that in expressing her concerns the grandmother was either harsh OR critical, I hope to god you don't have kids and/or that I never have to deal with them.

    You mommies who are offended are so incredibly lame, poor parents and most importantly annoying to all around you. The Gram is right, but she doesn't dare tell her daughter because she's bewildered by her shtty parenting and afraid of the consequences because she's immature.

    If only these nerd minivan driving husbands had a pair to keep 'em line this is how it'd go:

    1) (mom to kid) honey, do you want your meal w/everyone elses?
    2) blank stare from kid who doesn't/shouldn't give a s**t
    3) dad laughs and says "give me a break the kid'll have it whenever - he's hungry, he's a kid, and this is the 99 not Grill 23."
    4) mom, initially offended but then embarassed, logs onto facebook on her iphone, connects with a "friend" to rant about how poorly dinner is going.
    5) BEST OF ALL, Grandma is thrilled someone still has some f'ing common sense and rests at ease knowing her daughter (or in-law) may not completely destroy the kid after all.

    Posted by Oh how UNFAIR! October 25, 09 10:08 PM
  1. OK - Only in this country we want our 2 year old to behave like adults. We all know that we want them to be independent as adults but how about we gradually introduce the decision making process to them. In most eastern countries - China, Korea Japan, India the kids get potty trained by 18 months while our kids are pooping in their diapers till they are 4 - why because hell they will tell us when they are ready! It boggles my mind how much we have taken child rearing to another extreme. We are raising the most coddled kids of all times - I have to wait to see the amazing adults that will become of them. Get a grip ladies, strike a balance - don't burden a 2 year old with all their decisions, there is a reason you are their guardian - take control so the kid can fall back on you also.

    Go easy on the grandma, please! The poor woman is only asking for advice - she is the grand -"mother" after all - I guess in this culture that means "keep your mouth shut"!

    Posted by Angela October 25, 09 11:15 PM
  1. My problem with the Grandmother, the mother, the advice, and the comments is the assumption that all 2.5 year olds are alike.

    My response to my own two children on this issue differed, because they were individually different and needed and could handle different decision levels. My older son is very independent and needed decisions to make, no matter how inconsequential. He would decide quickly. My younger guy was more typical in that he could get stuck if given too much to sort out at once. Their individual temperments persist to this day - my now teen is very independent, but knows his privilege to make decisions will disappear if he makes irresponsible choices. The younger one still craves structure, order, etc. or his day can fall apart. The elder travels well and craves NEW, the younger one likes to stay near home. I wouldn't dream of treating them like robots!

    Of course, 90% of any and all issues is ensuring that they don't get too hungry or tired, and paying attention to when they do. Period. Both are a recipe for disaster - poor sleep, tantrums, etc. If a kid is tired, hungry, cranky, etc., a parent should avoid giving the kid any decisions to make. Address the tried/hungry/cranky first. Parents must be on duty here ... bring a little one along, and that little one's needs will dictate the pace and content of the day - that's what you signed on for.

    Posted by Infoferret October 26, 09 07:53 AM
  1. The problem here is the grandmothers' inability to let go, her embarrassment of her grandchild's tantrums and her blaming "guilt" for her daughters poor parenting. It's clear the grandmother is RIGHT about NOT giving the kids choice in ridiculous situations. One of the prime reasons for tantrums is hungry and tired. These also cause numerous other issues. The kid gets FED first, PERIOD! Taking a tired 2 1/2 child to a restaurant is an INSANE idea!

    Here are some other causes of tantrums which apparently the MOTHER is ignoring
    # Frustration, often due to limited language, or lacking the skills to complete tasks, for example getting stuck with a jumper half-way on, or a piece of puzzle that won’t fit.
    # Being hungry or tired
    # Wanting things they can’t have – whether it’s sweets at the checkout, one more video, or a friend’s toy.
    # Wanting independence – To walk, not ride in the buggy, to choose her own clothes, or to brush his own teeth.
    # Over-stimulation – common during exciting events like parties or Christmas.
    # Attention seeking - if previous tantrums got lots of attention, this can become a pattern as kids grow.
    # Emotional overload - when trying to cope with the world and the many new experiences a toddler has every day just feels like too much.

    Posted by Stay at Home Dad October 26, 09 08:14 AM
  1. The question about whether or not the mother should ask the kid's opinion on everything is a good topic of discussion for the mother and grandma. However, what really bothers me (and probably bothers the mother) is the grandma's jump to the conclusion that the mother is parenting from guilt and causing the kid anxiety and sleeping issues. That's quite an unsubstantiated leap!

    Posted by Diane L October 26, 09 08:23 AM
  1. I agree with the poster that suggested that Barbara follow up on this discussion and comment about Grandmothers and their role in raising children.

    I do agree that too many options may overwhelm a child. However, what are reasonable boundaries for a grandmother's role in a child's development? If a grandmother goes to the parent and gives advice, that's great. Many parents need guidance and such advice is welcome. However, if a parent has listened to that advice and has decided on something different (as Deborah's letter suggests) at what point does a grandmother need to back off? She isn't the mother anymore.

    Now to address questions as to why people are defending the mother? First, Deborah's letter is written in such a manner that suggests she doesn't think much of her daughter. (She parents from guilt and that's why my grandchild can't sleep. I've talked to her about they way I think she should raise my grandchild but she doesn't listen so I'm going to write the Globe and show her I'm right) Second, Deborah's daughter isn't here to defend herself and so someone should. It's hard enough to be a parent without outside interference.

    Posted by Sympathizes with mommy October 26, 09 01:18 PM
  1. I live next door to my grandparents and they are old. They are healthy and get around as if they were young. My mother comes over several days a week to see them, which means she sees me and my 4 year old son also. I am overwhelmed with advice of parenting from both parties. All I notice is that my son behaves well when it's just us. When they are involved or around my child, he grows horns and a pointed tail. I am belittled constantly. If I tell them not to give him sugar, they do anyway because that's what grandparents do. I have hypertension and so does my son. No suger over here at my home and he behaves much better. I think that grandparents or even great grandparents think that they always know better that you do. In all cases. But, here is something to consider, a child is a product of both parents, and then a product of himself also. I know my childs father very well. They don't. I also know my child better than they do and I know myself. There won't be greatgrandparent or grandparents soon, if they don't back off of what I say. What I say is the law with my child as far as I"m concerned. Grandparents are retired and excited that they have grandchildren. They are soooo proud that they have spawned another generation of themselves. They show pictures and talk about their grandchildren constantly. They are very concerned because they don't have anything other than to be involved to do. They are soooo proud. They gave birth to you and you gave birth to such a beautiful child. They don't see that you had anything to do with it. They think this is all because of them and that they have control. Well, I'm here to tell you, YOU DON"T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Incase of an emergency the parents get the first call and all of the decisions that go along with it. NOT YOU! If your daughter asks you for advice, give it to her. Other than that, leave her alone with her parenting, unless the child is in danger. I don't think that the child was in danger at the restuaraunt. He probably threw a fit because he sensed the tension between the two of you. I can understand a parent choosing different methods of raising thier own child than the way that their parents raised them. World got bigger and expects more of a child in order for that child to succeed. Leave the parents alone and respect their rules and ways of raising the child. If you don't, you will eventually lose your child and your grandchild completely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    That's what my family has done to themselves. You are causeing more harm than good.

    Posted by Sloane Craft November 26, 09 01:42 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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