22 September 2011

Speaking of flaccid, I was in the car listening to a call-in talk show hosted by an orthodox Catholic psychologist. One lady called in to ask whether or not she was expecting too much from her 15-year-old son to do a bit of community work occasionally, since she wanted to teach him the importance of helping others; the problem was that he didn't seem to like it much and was, like her, a bit of a homebody. The host asked what he would do in place of community work, and the mother replied, "Probably stay at home and listen to music."

The host very graciously told her that she was the mother and she set the rules in the house. Period. Full stop.

My dear mothers, you really must show some spine. I've gotten three children through the terrible twos (which often stretch to threes and fours), and I understand the complete frustration of disciplining them for the same things constantly and repeatedly, every day, for months on end. The temptation is to give way, particularly when dealing with the strong-willed child, because one gets tired of giving time-outs or of losing one's patience on a daily basis. I can assure you, though, that if you lay the groundwork now--as difficult and exhausting as it may be--you will save yourself massive amounts of frustration in the future. If you allow a child's wilfulness to grow and go unchecked, the little tantrums of today will turn into the monstrous outbursts and failures in self-control of tomorrow.

I once watched in horror at this exchange between a parent and her 4-year-old daughter. The mother had told her daughter to take ten bites of her veggies.
Child: Ohhh, do I have to? Can I just take 6 bites?

Mom: I want you to take 10 bites.

Child: But I only want to take 6. Please, please, can I just take 6 bites?

Mom: No, I want you to take 10 bites.

Child: Mom, please? Just 6 bites, ok? Please?

Mom: You have to take 10 bites.

Child: Please, please, please, 6 bites?

Mom: Ok, how about 7 bites?

Child: Ok!
Oh dear. I can see the same conversation taking place 10 years on, except this time it will be about whether or not she can wear that halter top and miniskirt on a date with her boyfriend. "No." "Please." "No." "Please." "No." "Please!" "Well, ok, but wear a sweater over it."

The same conversation would have gone this way in my home:
Me: I want you to take 10 bites.

Child: Could I just take 6 bites?

Me: Excuse me?

Child: [frowning]

Me: What is the proper response when I ask you to do something?

Child: [reluctantly] Yes, Ma'am.

Me: Thank you. Now eat your food.

Child eats.
And after she's dutifully eaten the requisite bites, she smiles very proudly at her achievement, shows Mom her finished plate, and Mom gives her a big hug.