Tough, Tough Love
Let me say, before diving in, that I have a son who is a relatively sweet, neat Kiddo. He can set a pleasant table for dinner. He's a good companion and helper in the kitchen and the garden. I like going on walks with him, I love his enthusiasm and wonder for the natural world and all the stuff that goes on on the neighborhood around him. I love the things he keeps track of, like what sorts of plants are on display in the planter box outside the flower shop (he loves collecting the fallen blooms), or how much work has been done on the neighborhood planter swale, or the fungus and burls growing on certain trees. All of this adored and aside...
Being a parent, sometimes you see a problem with your kid and decide, "I'm gonna own this... or at least my part in this." Lately, our two biggest problems seem to occur when we are in situations where other children are doing these things--running off or misbehaving in public--and are either getting away with them, or getting a lot of attention for it. Unfortunately, the attention Kiddo usually sees other kids getting is often the wheedling, coaxing, 'reasoning with and negotiating' kind instead of the immediate "these are the limits" corrections which need to take place. When problems come in this sort of package--emboldened to disobey by peers who are making disobedience 'work' for them (either by being allowed to continue to disobey or being given way too much power in the relationship by mom or dad) --the more simple problem becomes a two-pronged problem: Them and Us.
First, let me say this: To the "Them"-- you are making the job more difficult for many of us. Harder. Stop asking your children if they will be compliant. Stop using your 'nice' voice when it should be stern--you are not their concierge, you are their parent. Do not try to talk them into minding; expect that they should mind. And stop looking at me like I grew an arm out of my head when I'm actually doing my job by expecting my child to behave. Just stop it now. Stop looking at me--I'm not the one making a scene. Look at your own kid. They need your attention, not me.
Now, to my part in this: No matter if all the other parents let their kids jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, mine doesn't get permission to do that. And this is what he has to learn--Even if everyone else is doing stupid stuff, you are expected to behave.
Yesterday I picked up Kiddo from his preschool and he did what many other kids do-- he ran off and away from me. When I called him back, he ran into a neighboring yard and hid in the bushes, something he's seen other children do and which he knows he is not allowed to do. So when I called him back and he didn't come, I began counting at a reasonable pace. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
In that moment I decided that this was going to mean six minutes off of our twenty-minute story-time for bedtime. And then the light bulb went off in my head: every time he didn't come back immediately when I called him, I'd start counting and he'd lose minutes. I'm not worried about his 'literacy' reading time; we read plenty during the day, especially at afternoon snack times, usually a chapter of something good. The bedtime story-time is gravy for him, he looks forward to it. Tonight, we had a six minute story-time because of a couple 'not stopping and coming back' moments. Tomorrow might be the same, who knows? It may take a few weeks, but we'll get there. And I'm not going to let the fact that other children get a lot of gentle discussion dissuade me from doing my job. He knows the rules, and enough is enough. (Admittedly, for some kids, holding my hand the rest of the way home would have been a lesson enough. Not him...he loves holding hands, and I love it too, so it's not the logical consequence it might be for some children, it's a treat.)
I reached the same conclusion about going out to meals at restaurants. We aren't going to do that for a couple weeks at least, maybe a month, maybe longer...who knows? There's no reason I should be having to have a 'get your stuff straightened out' conversation with him while I'm out for a meal. So, when he asks to go out for the next few weeks, we're just going to tell him no, and why. This will likely be harder on Joe and I (what parent doesn't like a change of scenery or a break on making dinner?), but we feel that we are going to have better behavior in the long run. He is nearly five and we think it's reasonable that he can sit with us, do some fun activities with some of our attention and assistance, and use good manners and behavior. He's done it before and we expect it of him, even if other kids are allowed to do as they please. We don't want our son to be considered a little jerk when he's out as an older kid, so we're going to do the work now, before 'it isn't cute anymore'-- because it never was in the first place.
Lastly, I'm coming to the realization that Kiddo has had access to more toys in his short life than I did in my entire childhood. (This is due having collected up a lot of neat stuff over my years spent as a toddler and preschool teacher.) Tomorrow while he's at school I'm going to do a strategic clearing out of the available toys. Lately I've noticed that when he's experimenting or upset, he's become pretty reckless with some of his belongings. I've already laid down the law that any toy which breaks due to his being careless or angry with it is not going to be replaced by us. He will just have to make do until he saves up money for a replacement himself. When he's five, in a month or so, we'll start him on a $1 a week allowance so that he has a chance to learn about money in a way that he can understand. (Thanks, Amanda, for the advice you gave us on this subject. You are endlessly awesome, sis.) In this way, by not valuing his toys 'for him', we create a situation where the consequence for his actions lands right square in his lap. When they are my preschool toys, any abuse results in the toy simply being packed away again. Heck, I paid a lot of money for my instructional toys and puzzles--they are not community property.
So, little steps at a time. In some ways, I guess this means that I'm beginning to 'peer-proof' my son, teaching him that our family's values are different from those of others, and guiding him along a path which I think will serve him better in the long run. Truthfully, it's often very uncomfortable to be That Mom, the one which goes against the grain, when everyone is letting the kids do as they wish. It's like having a scarlet letter on my forehead. But there are good reasons why I have to do this socially-awkward job of saying "no" when many others are saying "yeah, whatever", and I hope that I can show other parents that "no" is what their children need. What they crave. Limits. Guidance. The belief that their parent won't let them go too, too far down the wrong path before calling them back and saying "that was a wrong path, now, let me show you the right one". Those moments can be hard for us, but it's better than letting them go down that path and having that unspoken question hanging there for all to see~ "Don't they even care?"