The pink hot dog and the angry child

I saw this clip on the tv-show ”Doctors”. Dr Sears acts in a small scene where he is taking his 6-year old nephew out to eat hot dogs. The boy sees a pink hot dog on the roof on the hot-dog-place, demands to have a pink hot dog and then becomes more and more agitated, and we can sense that a tantrum is coming up. In the TV-show, we then are back to the studio, and the audience is asked to ”vote” between different alternatives, like ”discipline him in the line” or just carrying the boy away. The latter alternative, to leave, won and was also endorsed by the doctors.

I live in Sweden, and for us the Americans seems a little bit obsessed with ”discipline” and maybe this clip should be seen from that perspective, maybe the show wants to present more humane and long-term alternatives to ”discipline”. When I see this, though, I get the following thoughts:

When the boy demands a pink hot dog – why not just go to the counter and ask for that? Maybe the boy knows that when an adult really wants something, they go to the counter and talk to the attendant, and sometimes even strange requests can be met. In that case the child’s frustration would be quite understandable; the adult does not do to the kid what he might do with himself.

If I would be in such a situation I would just pick up the boy with my arms and go and ask politely: ”Excuse me, we have a small emergency here; Do you by any chance have pink hot dogs?”. Of course I am not sure about how people would react in the United States, but in Sweden, most people would smile and at least try to think of a solution. And if they say no, I might ask some supplementary questions like ”if we come back here later, would you then be able to make us a pink hot dog?” or ”do you know where we can get one?”

This way of acting has several advantages to the solution proposed by the ”Doctors”:

  • One: it teaches the child an important skill in life – to ask for help from a person behind a counter. This might be a life saving skill ten years later, when he is travelling alone for the first time in his life, and it can also help in building a trustful view of the world; the message is something like: In a crisis, there might be people out there ready to help you.
  • Two: it would show that the adult is on the child’s side against the world. If there aren’t any pink hot dogs to get, at least he’s doing what he can to help.

And I would even like to suggest that if they don’t offer to make any pink hot dogs, one might ask the child: Do you REALLY want to have a pink hot dog? Do you want us to go to a supermarket and ask if they can help us make one ourselves?

To make a pink hot dog should not be impossible. Maybe you can make a pink sauce to dip it in. Or you might find some sort of colouring to boil it in. This is the sort of adventure that could be perfect for a day with an uncle. It also would teach the boy a number of important things: To plan a sequence of actions to get to a desired goal. That problems that seem impossible might be solved with cooperation and creativity. And it might also be a terrific bonding-exercise for the two.

And there is also another twist to this story:

Maybe there is a real obstacle here, for instance, say that the doctor really do think that pink hot dogs are a health hazard and couldn’t think of exposing the boy to that. In that case, of course, it would be helpful if he had explained that. But even more importantly, the child might still cry and rage, and there’s a lot of research that shows that this venting of feelings might be very beneficial for the child. There are so many frustrations of this kind in the life of a child, and crying and raging helps children to get back into balance. Of course it is a difficult challenge when other people dislikes your child’s emotional expression, but this also raises the question: on who’s side are you? In my mind it would be very possible to let the child have a tantrum there on the spot, it can’t be illegal, can it? And if the child goes into a tantrum the uncle/doctor should not, as is suggested in the program, ignore it, but stay close and supportive towards the child.

In sum: It think this clip shows very well that by implementing a ”the adult knows best”-approach, you might miss out on an awful lot of opportunities for learning, creativity and connection.

Note: This posting is inspired by parenting philosophies Playful Parenting and Aware Parenting.