I forgot to mention one of the nicest things about Riley’s age right now: he can be threatened. Perhaps you’re not into threatening small children, and to that I say, HAVE YOU TRIED IT? Because it is surprisingly satisfying! Go ahead, indulge your inner bully and take advantage of one of the few times in life you can completely control another human being’s happiness. DANCE FOR ME MONKEY-CHILD MOO HOO HA HA HAAAA.

In all seriousness I have no qualms resorting to the Dire Threat when necessary because the boy does not LISTEN. I can say “I need you to pick up your toys” six hundred and fifty times in a row and it’s like my voice has morphed into the Peanuts trumpet—mwaa waaa mwa wa wa mwaaaaaa—but tack on a “. . . or you don’t get to watch Curious George tonight” and hot damn, suddenly we’ve got some forward momentum.

Once we were at a playdate and Riley had been behaving like a particularly sub-standard citizen for nearly an hour straight, one meltdown after another, and I had run through my entire bag of parenting-book-advice tricks and was at a loss for what to do other than start combing his hair looking for the 666 tattooed on his scalp. Finally I hunkered down, grasped his shoulders, pulled him close, and hissed in his ear that if he didn’t start acting better I was going to take his beloved blankie and throw it out the window of the car on our way home. Call it cruel, but he shaped right up after that.

The 1-2-3 method is surprisingly useful, too, when he’s doing something obnoxious like grabbing for a pen I’ve just told him he cannot have. Sometimes just a glare combined with an ominous “ONE . . .” does the trick, but Riley often likes to live dangerously and wait until the death-pause that comes after “TWO—” before springing into action.

I don’t really know what happens after “THREE”. It’s like Room 101 in 1984.

Oh, and you know what else is awesome about a preschool-aged kid as opposed to, say, a 14-month-old? When they ignore your repeated warnings about whining or taking their brother’s toys or jumping on the couch or whatever it is, you can send them to their bedroom. I like to bust about the full name for that one: “Riley William S.! To your room this instant!” and off he goes at top speed, wahmbulancing his way down the hall and slamming his door before throwing himself on his bed to sulk. After a few minutes, he’s usually ready to come back out and join society; it’s like a system restart on whatever fucked-up kernel panic we’ve gotten ourselves into.

(Sadly, none of these methods are useful for babies, and it’s really too bad because there are at least twenty times per day when I would dearly love to send Dylan to his room. Or hover over his furious fishflopping body and say, “ONE . . .” and have something happen other than a mule-kick to the gut. Instead, it’s all about distraction and redirection, and while that’s often effective it’s slightly less satisfying to deal with a screaming devilspawn child by chirping, “Oh LOOK! A spatula! Do you want to play with a spatula?”)

Riley’s favorite question lately is “But why?” and I often find myself saying, “Because I say so.” I don’t really care if this is an unadvised course of action or not, sometimes that is the fucking sum and substance of the answer, as Al Swearengen might say. Someone recently told me how their friend’s kid—a kindergardener, I think—requires a reasonable explanation before she will do something she’s asked to do, and I was thinking, SERIOUSLY? THEIR PARENTS PLAY ALONG WITH THAT? Because I can only imagine what sort of rabbit hole you would get yourself into after a while. It would be like that Louis CK routine: “Well because some things ARE, and some things are NOT! Things that are NOT can’t BE, and—” Sure, I might explain to Riley that he needs to wear a coat because it’s cold, but if he continues to protest, well by god MY VOICE IS THE LAW.

I’m sure this is one of the brief stages in parenthood where I can actually get all Samuel Jackson on my kid’s ass if need be, because soon enough he’ll be all, “Uccccch. WHATEVER, Mom.” And I’ll be like, “one . . . ?”


75 Responses to “Hardassery”

  1. Beth on April 2nd, 2009 5:43 pm

    Every time I start the count and we get to 2, Daisy looks at me with fear, and I at her cause neither of us know what the hell happens at 3! If you ever get there can you let us all know?

  2. Lesley on April 2nd, 2009 6:52 pm

    “like a particularly sub-standard citizen.”

    I can think of so many uses for this!

  3. moojoose on April 2nd, 2009 8:29 pm

    Not the point that you were trying to make about the coat, but it reminded me of this recent study: http://www.livescience.com/culture/090324-toddlers-listen.html (non-psych nerd friendly article).
    In short, he totally doesn’t even GET the logic of normal “why” when you give it to him.

  4. mrsgryphon on April 2nd, 2009 8:34 pm

    Oh, how I wish that threats and/or time-out worked at our house. Our 3yo is so stubborn and strong-willed that she has, no lie, screamed in an epic tantrum (complete with wall-kicking and fist-pounding) for 90 minutes on one occasion. All because I asked her to be polite and say “please”.

    Use the threats and one-two-three as long as they work, because we are still trying to figure out some kind of tactic that will get her to just PUT YOUR COAT ON/BRUSH YOUR TEETH/DON’T THROW THAT without an argument. *sigh*

  5. Nicole on April 2nd, 2009 11:46 pm

    Its so nice to hear someone say that they believe that the parent is the boss. I agree! I like to explain why and give Ella control over deciding as many things as I can and try to listen and understand to the angst that is inherent in being 3/4; etc etc. But when it comes right down to it, I am the Mom and she is the Kid and no one better forget it. I employ all the parenting techniques you listed and when asked what comes after three, I gave The Look and said in a calm voice, “Listen, kiddo, you DO NOT want to find out.” She seemed to find that enough of an answer.
    PS after becoming a bit of joke for awhile, time outs have suddenly started really working on my 4 year old.

  6. Sally on April 3rd, 2009 3:35 am

    Actually my most favourite (ungrammatical but true!) stage was when I used to be able to just give my son The Look and he would immediately burst into tears and then do just what he had been asked to do WORDLESSLY (mean mother? me?!)

    My least favourite was when each child became too big to physically carry up the stairs to their rooms when needed – a small child’s “I do not want to go to my room and you can’t make me even though I’ve been a *%£^+!”- style dead weight is something else!

  7. Kelly on April 3rd, 2009 4:48 am

    I swear to God my three-in-two-days kiddo WAITS until I start counting to five. It drives me insane. But at least the threat is working; he almost always complies when the counting starts. But, why, oh why, does he have to be threatened in order to do what I want?!

  8. Alison on April 3rd, 2009 5:39 am

    We are teetering on the edge at 161/2 months – distraction is getting less and less useful, but threats/bribery/reasoning/ebay (what?) are nowhere near feasible. What, oh what do you do with the little…um…darlings while you wait?

  9. Sandra on April 3rd, 2009 6:47 am

    You.are.the.best! I use all the methods described and wow does it feel good to read that others do the same thing I do. I have a Very stubborn 7 year old and her old/new tactic is to say that I “hurt her feelings” anytime she gets in trouble. Luckily, I don’t fall for that and her feelings be d*mned! I love your writing.

  10. Jamie on April 3rd, 2009 6:55 am

    The One…two…three worked like magic for my 3.5 year old for several months and now, after three, he just looks at me, DARING me to do something about it. UGH!

  11. Kelli on April 3rd, 2009 7:11 am

    This post made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

  12. Karla on April 3rd, 2009 7:44 am

    I used the “one..” thing on my 16 y/o recently and it worked! He burst out laughing and when he recovered he was all, “OK, Mom. sure.”

  13. Ashleas on April 3rd, 2009 8:47 am

    The 1-2-3 thing still works on me at 22 years old.

    O.o I’ve never seen 3.

  14. Trenches of Mommyhood on April 3rd, 2009 9:10 am

    LOVE your writing! The entire time I was reading this I was shaking my head YESYESYES.

    I do the “Go to your room” command too. And the evildoer is only allowed to come out IF HE CAN BE PLEASANT.

    AND he has to show me his “pleasant face”.

  15. Marie Green on April 3rd, 2009 9:53 am

    I, for one, have a 2 year old that puts HERSELF in time out (Why are you sitting on the stairs, Marin? Because I hit Coco. Now I hafto sit on da stairs.) Then I have 2 6 year olds that ONLY go to time outs/their room kicking and screaming and literally grabbing things, like the stairs railing, while we (try to) carry them to their room.

    Guess which child is my favorite, that is, if I was allowed to have a favorite, which I’m not. ;)

  16. Michelle on April 3rd, 2009 10:34 am

    My three-year-old has started counting at ME. Mommy, I told you to get me a snack right now. ONE…

  17. spacegeek on April 3rd, 2009 11:15 am

    Our preschool teacher says it is about “choices”. You can choose to knock it off or you can choose to go to your room!
    That way the child feels they are still in control. I think this is a good reframe of the threat. You can choose to pick up all your toys or you can choose to go to bed RIGHT NOW.

    I can choose to have my head explode or I can choose to wring your neck… uh, did I say that?

    I like the cry in your room idea.

    And I answer “why” with “why not?”

  18. Kate on April 3rd, 2009 1:58 pm

    What happens after “three” is addressed in 1-2-3 Magic. Great book. If you use the methods, you always have something that happens at three. Plus, you get to stop being emotional (angry) over the situation, and you don’t have to use any words to talk about it at all. No explaining. No democratic fluffy-wuffy bullshit. And best of all–you get to be more consistent. ‘Cuz God knows the worst thing is when your kid figures out that nothing comes after Three.

    The other wonderful thing is that you get to stop looking like a total fool in public when you’re counting and your kid is ignoring you.

    1-2-3 Magic, by Thomas Phelan

  19. sundry on April 3rd, 2009 2:09 pm

    I should clarify I was mostly kidding about not knowing what comes after 3. Believe me, I don’t have trouble coming up with a punishment when the situation warrants. : )

  20. amelia on April 3rd, 2009 2:21 pm

    HEY if you need some ideas for entertaining the boy besides the event email me, I have brought many a niece around town here.

  21. MommyMia on April 4th, 2009 3:02 am

    My husband and I have nicknamed the boys db. We only pull it out when they are acting like orangutans People think it stands for darling boy and that we are being sarcastic but actually – douche bag.

    Can I say how happy I am that we aren’t the only parents that call their kids douche bags?

    Also, a tip for the whys? Ask them what they think? Why is the cat sleeping on the kitchen table? I don’t know db (ha!) why do you think he’s sleeping on the table? It will surprise you what they come up with.

    Linda your blog makes me so happy. Our boys are almost the same age so most of your entries make me think you’ve been peeking in our windows (you haven’t been have you?) I smile every time I see Dylan in those blue moose/polar bear jammies. My little guy has the same ones :)

  22. Greg on April 4th, 2009 6:52 am

    My son is only 10 months, so a firm and loud “no” is still working. I will miss these days.

  23. kimbo on April 5th, 2009 9:58 am

    totally unrelated to your recent post, but:

    I have been catching up on some old entries & wanted to say that as far as school goes, I think as some people noted, you can get an education anywhere. Or not. As long as the school is safe & clean, your children will have the chance to succeed, and the rest is up to them. They have to have the desire, the personality, whatever. As for me, I had good teachers and bad ones, and I had a moderate drive to succeed. Mostly, though, I was afraid of getting into Trouble & so always did my work, tried hard, and behaved myself. This served me well in many ways but had nothing to to with the schools or the teachers.

    I hated school all my life, from the get-go, despite having plenty of friends and being a good student. I hated the routine and the seeming uselessness & pointlessness of it all, especially the so-called “creative” assignments which I loathed most of all. That is, let me memorize some facts but don’t make me build a diorama! (To each his own; there is not ONE type of successful teaching/learning, there are MANY).

    The most important things to ME were: 1.) summer vacation (I don’t think I could have made it through childhood without that to look forward to; also, I learned shitloads gorging on summer reading. The school districts around me are trying to go to year-round schedules and if I had a school-age child, that alone would be enough to cause me to move/change schools, homeschool, whatever. Year-round school is INHUMANE).

    2.) extracurricular activities (sports and music programs taught me at least as much as classes did); and

    3.) being in the same school, with the same students, throughout any given stage of school. (Again, the schools around me are constantly reshuffling the school districts, moving kids from here to there, and I think that, too, is terrible, to cause so much unnecessary upheaval in kids’ lives).

  24. Alyson on April 5th, 2009 8:03 pm

    It’s not threatening……it’s called “Consequences.” (If you persist in doing “X”, I will be forced to do “Y”)

    But really, you need to get a “Three.” One and two are no good, without a “Three.” But “three” can be used only very sparingly.

  25. Barb on April 7th, 2009 9:05 am

    I sooo remember the night my mother started the “one, two….” rule…I thought it was kinda fun..for about one….

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