Why is it that children understand the concept of Mothers Guilt far faster than they do the notion of tough love?
Recently my son pulled out the big guilt guns. At the end of a tantrum, when it became clear he was not going to be getting his own way he responded with “but mummy, that makes me really sad and you need to make me really happy”.
As a mum, it is our intrinsic instinct that our children are enjoying a contented childhood, and an almost kneejerk reaction that we should want to ensure this status quo is continually upheld. To complicate matters, hard wired into my sub conscious is the fact I am a “people pleaser”; a “yes man” (or sorts!), if you will. But I deep down I understand, becoming a “yes mum” will in the short (and long) term, do my son no favours at all.
So how then, do we juggle a balance of devotion and discipline?
For me, its maintaining a follow through on threats, that is of significant importance. I am the first to admit it is sometimes oh so hard to stay strong, and stick to my guns. Not so long ago my (almost) three year old was in trouble for some unpleasant behaviour at day-care. Even though I had a bad head cold, and knew I’d be dealing with the fallout alone while my husband was away from work, I knew I had to be firm with the decision I’d made to take away some of his treasured toy and tv privileges. It would have been so very easy to relent, so that I could curl up on the lounge and wallow in my sickness in peace. But instead I had to adhere to the threat.
Other times the follow through can be a tad tricky to implement, especially at 5am when I am oh so tired – or simply being played for a fool – I admit I cave in to the toddler invoked pressure.
An example of this is the fact we are currently in the midst of an 6 month battle to get our son to sleep in his own bed all night, with no 2am tantrums. The deal is, if he doesn’t adhere to this, then there is no TV.
A few mornings ago, after another long sleepless night, I reminded the wayward child of this agreement. He jumped back into our bed, offered up the hugest bear hug and declared “Mummy, I promise I will never do that ever again!”. Now besides being so flattered by the affection and declaration, it was the shock of hearing him utter this sentence (who knew he had the word “promise” in his vocabulary? Not I!) I admit I succumbed to the surprise shellfire.
And again, the next morning, when we endured the same sleepless shenanigans from the night before, I was greeted with the same empathic oath that he’d never subject us to this “ever again”. Deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt, we reached a compromise, with him allowed to watch only 1 show.
So when the third morning rolled around, and I was again forced to play the tough hand, I was ready for the apparently automatic and standard “promise”. Flattery was no longer going to get him anywhere.
When it comes to doling out discipline, it all depends on what works for the parent. What works for one, doesn’t always do so for another. Time out is another that is being used frequently in our home at present, as we try to curb an unfriendly little hitting habit that is being cultivated by the child each time he doesn’t get his own way. Sure, its pure two year old frustration on his part but it is far from acceptable. Needless to say he is seeing the inside of his bedroom more, and less of his favourite toys, as this little phase rolls through toddler town.
Perhaps it all comes down to a lesson in science that we all need to learn at an early age – being cruel to be kind is akin to physics. Newton’s famous Third Law, – “for every action… there is an equal and opposite reaction…” can readily be applied to parenting.
My mum reminds me this stage in a two year old’s life is largely normal, that one minute he may declare “you’re not my best friend anymore” and the next be demanding cuddles on the lounge from him. No parent relishes hearing their child denounce their best friend status but at the crux of it I need to remember that one day, even if in the far, far away future, my son will be a part of “the big bad world” where getting your own way is never a guarantee. Put in that perspective we owe it to them to start now to filter doses of disobedience with appropriate responses, because no one needs to see a grown man throw a tanty of epic proportions in our everyday world – unless of course we are talking professional sport – there is no avoiding them in that arena!