Every parent has a different technique, different approach, and the result is of course, very different children. We need those differences – it makes life more interesting.
But there are times when I wish that I was not restricted by social mores. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones that prohibit polite people from sitting a parent down and saying bluntly…
Your child is a whiny, aggressive, spoiled brat. If you continue along this course you have no one but yourself to blame when they end up whiny, petulant, spoiled and incompetent adults.
Tell me you haven’t wanted to say this at least once to another parent. And yet…
We are quiet. We say nothing, or bite our tongue and speak as politely as possible while we grind our teeth in frustration.
Does it sound familiar? Heck, maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. All I know is with some kids I just look at them and see the writing on the wall. Things aren’t going to get better, in fact, they are probably going to get much, much worse.
Recently my husband Dave described watching a situation unfold with a dad and his young daughter who kept screaming for candy until he just handed it to her. Dave shook his head, looked at the dad and said, “Really?”
The dad shrugged, “It’s just easier this way.”
To which I have to ask, exactly who is it easier for? Will it be easier for the child when they are no longer allowed to play with their friends due to their bad behavior? Will it be easier for the parent in a year from now when the child has gotten the screaming demands down to a fine science?
Who is the parent here? And what, pray tell, is their role if not to educate their child on the basics such as respect, non-aggressive behavior, and basic good manners?
The other day in the supermarket, Emily and I were discussing lunch. “I want candy for lunch,” she said, a playful gleam in her eye.
I laughed, “Well, that’s not going to happen. But how about a frozen pizza, since we are both pretty hungry?” (it was nearly 1pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch)
“I don’t want a pizza!”
“I could fix you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
“I don’t want peanut butter and jelly, I want candy for lunch!” She just wasn’t going to let this go easily, was she?
“Okay, how about I fix you some of the deli meat, a pickle and an apple.”
Complete turnabout in attitude, “Oh yes, Mama, yes! Thank you!”
I’m serious, that was the conversation. Now by the time she uttered that line, we were next in line with the cashier. The cashier’s eyebrows shot up. “I heard a very nice thank you!” I just smiled and said that yes, she was a good girl. What bothers me is that this seems like such a rare thing these days that it is remarked upon nearly everywhere I go.
So the other day, my daughter came in the door from playing with a friend and said, “[name deleted] punched me again.” I hadn’t taken the news of the first punch well. In fact, I had told [name deleted] the next day when she came to play with Emily that if it happened again, that it would be a full week before I would allow them to play with each other.
I don’t say these things lightly. I don’t issue idle threats of any kind. Emily knows this. When I say I will do something, I move heaven and earth to do it. Chalk it up to too many repetitions of Horton Hatches the Egg
, I guess. Seconds after Emily returned telling me that her friend had punched her, my phone rang. It was the other mom, full of reasons (i.e. excuses) about why her daughter had punched mine…long and busy day, sick brother, lost toy, overdue for a nap, and on and on.
And I get it, I do. There are times when I am snappy and short-tempered, a real delight (not) to be around. But I don’t punch people. And I wasn’t allowed to get away with it as a child either. My dad calls it NAP (non-aggression principle) or ZAP (zero-aggression principle) and he raised me by it. “You have the right to defend yourself,” I can clearly remember him saying, “But I better not find out that you threw the first punch.” And heaven help me if I did start a fight…that was not a comfortable discussion in the least.
I listened to the mom’s excuses and said calmly, “I totally understand. And it is unfortunate that there were extenuating circumstances, but I am bound by my word. I said I would do this and I have to follow through with them not playing for a full week.”
Again I heard the excuses and even a bit of a blame game starting, “Well, she was just lying down when Emily arrived and wanted to play. I really should have just said ‘no’.”
Yeah, you should have. You know how your child behaves when sleep-deprived and instead of sending my kiddo back you went ahead and told her she could play because you didn’t want to deal with the screaming and crying fit she would throw when she didn’t get her way. It isn’t as if she isn’t predictable in this.
Again I said, “I totally understand. But I have to keep my word, otherwise, it isn’t worth much, is it?”
I could practically hear the steam come over the phone line, “Well, I think that one week is way too long for children as young as this.”
I kept my cool, and said, “I think that there are also some ‘behaviors’ that have been coming back home that we (husband and I) need to deal with, and that a week apart might help with that.”
In other words, I’m so not cool with how my child acts towards us (disrespect, whining, demanding, arguing, and yes, crying at the drop of a hat) after coming back from playing in their house. It doesn’t work, I’ve often said to her, “Really? You’re going to [insert bad behavior here]? And when has that ever worked for you?”
She quickly abandons the behavior, but it is still a pain the patoot.
I promise you, you will not ‘break [your] child’s spirit’ by expecting them to be polite, respectful, or wait their turn in a discussion. You will not turn your child into a mamsy pamsy suck up by encouraging a sense of fair play, honor, sacrifice or empathy. You will not find a leader in a bully. You will however, ruin them forever by excusing their behavior, not following through on what you say you will do, and ignoring a problem or not nipping it in the bud when they are young enough to learn that more is expected.
I realized too that I have been remiss. All too often, the girls play over there, not over here. I told Emily during the week we had off from playing that when we resumed playing it would be different. “I want to see more of you two playing over here.” Then I can see when problems are developing and hopefully nip them in the bud before they get started.
The week came and went, and the girls were very happy to see each other. They ended up playing over at our house for most of the time, several hours, and around 2:30 Emily’s friend started getting cranky and whiny. Time to end the play date, someone was overdue for a nap! I kindly but firmly informed them that it was time for the play date to end and to please clean up the Play-Doh they had been playing with.
I could see the gears turning in that little girl’s head. For a moment she just sat there, unmoving, wondering if she could get away with a) not cleaning up, or b) crying and wailing. I stated again that it was time to clean up, and that she needed to help since she had helped make the mess. No argument, no complaining, and along with regular encouragement from me, “Oh the two of you are doing so well at cleaning up, thank you!” the Play-Doh was all neatly put away.
Emily’s little friend then began to cry, “Do I have to go now? I don’t want to go now!”
I calmly reminded her, “So and so, crying does not work with me. You will not get your way, and you will only succeed in annoying me if you continue. I know you will miss Emily, but you two will get to play tomorrow.”
“Well, let’s see. After Storytime and before her sign language class. So…between 11am and 1pm tomorrow.”
“Oh,” her tears vanished, “Okay.”
Shoes on, escort in place, the girl was fine until she had an overly sympathetic audience (her mother), at which point she started crying again.
And while my tactics might sound harsh, I have to say in my defense that I have watched this child turn on and off the waterworks anytime she wants something. It is less a matter of maturity level and more a case of emotional warfare in my estimation. And while I am not mean, I am quite matter-of-fact when dealing with her. And surprisingly, it seems to work quite well!