Illogical consequences are the enemy of modern parenting. In order for kids to make sense of why they are receiving a consequence, it should be related somehow to their undesirable behavior. Like this: “If you throw the blue truck, the blue truck is banished to the closet for the rest of the day.” Consequences should not be randomly linked (“If you throw the blue truck, you will not get to watch Dora”) or fueled by frustration and anger (“If you throw the blue truck, I will throw it in the fireplace and make you watch it burn.”) My problem with this system is that often the most frustrating misbehaviors do not have rational consequences. Here is a list I compiled of such behaviors that took place in our household in the last 24 hours:
Bouncing on the bed
Unrolling the toilet paper roll
Climbing into the the refrigerator to try and reach yogurt
Throwing noodles on the floor
Laying down on the floor, limp, when it was time to walk to our car
Laying down on the floor, limp, when it was time to get dressed
Laying down on the floor, limp, when it was time to eat
Running away from me in a public place
Laughing at me and continuing to run when I say “STOP NOW” in my sternest mommy voice
Banging a brush repeatedly against the cabinet door
Sitting at the forbidden computer and starting to type on the keyboard
Trying to unlock the car door with his foot while in his car seat
Unlatching his car seat buckle
Throwing his cheddar bunnies on the floor of the car
Torrential splashing in the bath
What is the logical consequence of throwing noodles on the floor? Not letting him eat them and excusing him from dinner? He didn’t want to eat anyway! That’s not a consequence, that’s what he wants! Or what about a logical consequence for unlatching his car seat buckle? Stopping the car and being Stern Mommy seems logical but then, what if it’s a trip I wanted to make that he could care less about? Like to Starbucks or something? He would love it if I stopped the car and headed back home- that’s where all his trucks live.
What is so stressful about these behaviors is that I’m so Nice and I Follow the Rules of being a good parent. I give clear expectations, set great boundaries, and offer clear consequences for undesirable behavior. I usually do not get emotionally invested in his naughty-ness, but remain calm in guiding him toward appropriate behavior. What frustrates me the most about times like this when he’s acting out is that:
1. I feel helpless to help him navigate his emotions.
2. I feel like a failure as any kind of guide in his life.
3. I feel angry that these time-tested parenting strategies don’t seem to work for him or me (Like time-outs, for instance, are a joke. He literally laughs at them.)
4. I am disappointed that I am not being rewarded for my undying love, strict obedience of the Rules, and consistency. I am used to Following the Rules and being rewarded for it.
5. I feel scared and inadequate as a parent when I can’t help him control inappropriate behaviors.
Is my kid smarter than me? Is there a secret key to unlocking daily, consistent desirable behavior that I am missing? I admit that I don’t like classifying children’s behavior into “good” and “bad” categories. For me, the behavior I’m trying to correct usually falls into these two categories: “unsafe” and/or “pain in the ass.”
Is it really earth-shattering that our toilet paper sits in a pile on the floor? In the grand scheme of the things, no. Gross, perhaps, if we plan to actually use it. Wasteful if we don’t. My stress comes from knowing he has directly ignored a clear instruction. It’s like I expect him to be a little soldier. He’s not. He’s not even 3 years old. I can literally not believe how stressed out I feel at these little things that happen all day long. But then I think, my stress isn’t real stress. We have a roof over our head, food on the table, good people in our lives. These parenting stresses are the stresses of a luxury American lifestyle. Deep breathing, a glass of wine and some yoga poses usually cure them. But sure enough, when they happen again, I feel like a failure again.
I want him to listen and do what I say without fighting me. That’s basically what the mom in me wants. And when dealing with a 2 or 3 year old it seems that yes, that is too much to ask. And though as a mom I want his happy obedience, as a human being I want him to think creatively and disobey authority a little. Frankly I think a little disobedience is an asset in our society. Anarchy! Not quite, but sort of. Part of me wants to let him do whatever he wants as long as he is safe. Bounce the crap out of your bed! Let me get you another toilet paper roll! Yeah, lay on the ground when it’s time to go to preschool- I didn’t want to drive you there anyways! Is it the rebel in me that he is reflecting back to me? Nope, probably more likely to be a developmental normalcy of an almost 3 year old. I hope.