Have you ever given your toddler a treat, expecting gratitude, only for him to demand more? Here’s what to do when your child seems ungrateful.
My husband added an extra treat for our toddler: a peanut butter sandwich with his oatmeal. He shoved aside the oatmeal for the sandwich and gobbled it up in record speed.
Once his hands were empty though, he cried for more. “It’s all gone,” we tried explaining to him.
Nothing seemed to register. He wasn’t thrilled at having eaten a favorite snack. He instead showed little thanks once the sandwich was over.
Not the first time
This wasn’t the first time our toddler seemed ungrateful. I had offered to show him slideshows on my computer and to see some waterfalls which I knew he liked. Both instances ended with him asking for more rather than enjoying the moment.
We’ve also given him a smoothie only to face more crying when the it ran out. We took him to a playground he loved for several hours just to end with a tantrum when we had to leave.
“Do you think he’s being ungrateful?” I asked my husband later that day. “I don’t feel like doing anything fun or giving him special treats if doing so causes him to throw a fit.”
“He’s not ungrateful,” he responded. “Maybe he’s just dealing with emotions that we assume as ingratitude.” We thought about why our little guy cried instead of relished the treat and came up with the following two:
- He’s unsatisfied. When he’s having fun at the playground or drinking a smoothie, nothing seems worse than when it comes to an end. I imagine the same is true for adults. Eating a bowl of ice cream just isn’t as great when it’s over as when I’m actually eating it. Except kids don’t always know that things come to an end. Or why we have to leave the playground, or that we’re not hiding smoothies behind our backs.
- He’s unhappy about something else. My toddler also wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with when he threw a tantrum at the playground. He was tired, teething, and for the past several days, wasn’t his normal chipper self. When kids face rough days, any little nudge towards unhappiness takes on a wild ride in itself.
We feel down when kids don’t seem to appreciate the effort and intention we had. After all, when we treat others, we expect joy, not necessarily a fit of tears. But we have to realize kids aren’t being ungrateful so much as they feel disappointed. Maybe confused, frustrated, and a slew of other emotions they’re just learning to process. My husband and I now help him try to understand a bit more about the world.
What to do when your child seems ungrateful:
- Give him notices. We transition him by letting him know we’ll be doing something different soon. He appreciates knowing that a transition is about to occur. He can mentally prepare for it rather than interrupting him when it’s time.
- Entice him with the next activity. If your next activity is fun, highlight that fact to help your child move on from her current activity to the next. Bath time in itself may not sound exciting compared to being able to continue playing in the living room. But saying, “Let’s play with the water like the way we played with the puddle earlier at the park today!” may just be what he needs to leave what he’s doing instead of what’s next.
- Plan treats. My husband could’ve waited to give the sandwich after our son had already eaten the oatmeal. I imagine the same goes for me should someone offer me dessert before my main meal. With a full tummy, kids are less likely to want more and instead appreciate the treat they have.
- Describe and relish the moment. Help your child appreciate the moment by describing what’s happening as it’s taking place. As my toddler drank his smoothie, we could’ve described its yummy taste and texture. When kids focus on the moment, they’re less likely to rush and instead take pleasure as it happens. Talking about the moment can also stretch the time rather than rushing through it.
- Accept the tantrum. Sometimes kids will just escalate to a full-blown tantrum. The best step is to accept it and handle the tantrum appropriately.
- Consider his point of view. The tip I’d like to end with is to always consider the scenario from your child’s point of view. Only in expressing empathy can we understand children’s emotions. We can see he’s not trying to spite us and be ungrateful. He’s only expressing frustration in the ways he’s able to.
I felt tempted to never to take him to the playground again. But I knew that withholding fun activities isn’t the best remedy (nor a realistic one). With timing and preparation, we’ve heard less cries and more gratitude.
Get more parenting tips:
- I Don’t WANT to ‘Cherish Every Moment’: What I Won’t Miss about Parenthood
- Why Older Kids Aren’t Always Easier
- Don’t Stress (Too Much) about Your Child’s Developmental Milestones
- Kids Are More Adaptable Than You Think
- What to Do When Your Kid Doesn’t Like What Other Kids Typically Like
Tell me in the comments: How do you handle your kids when they seem ungrateful and fuss about a treat that has finished?
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