Baby parenting is one thing, poo-namis, the incessant repetition of the word “Noooo” and physically redirecting your kiddo away from trouble/danger. Toddlerdom is something different, tantrum wrangling, making sense of quite frankly bizarre demands (“I just want one sock on Mum!”) and mastering the art of distraction – Lord knows the number of times I found myself randomly gasping and pointing out a window to a non-existent plane to avoid meltdowns.
Now that Ethan is 4 years old and soon to start school, parenting seems to have graduated to explaining reasons behind demands and answering his 497 honest and legitimate daily questions about the world around him. Some of my recent favourites have been “What happens when boats go over coral?”, ‘Did the baby in your tummy come from the stars like me?” and “Why does this milk smell like raisins?”.
It seems that we’ve reached a stage where he’s able to grasp (some) concepts and explanations. It’s fun but scary, especially when it backfires.
Ethan and his cousin Hannah, who is exactly the same age, were playing together at our house. They get on famously (most of the time) but had taken recently to coercing the other into trying to play games or share toys by using the good old “If you don’t do x, I won’t be your best friend anymore”. I had made it clear to them that this was not cool and that I didn’t want to hear either of them say this again. My parental spidey senses were telling me that it might one day lead to “If you don’t jump out that window/drink this/tell your parents that, I won’t be your friend anymore”. So it was nipped in the bud. I calmly explained to them both the following:
“Listen, Ethan, you don’t have to do anything that Hannah tells you if you don’t want to. And Hannah, you don’t have to do anything Ethan tells you if you don’t want to. You should only do the things that you’re happy and comfortable to do and if something doesn’t feel right, you can tell the other person you don’t want to do it.”
They continued to play the rest of the day beautifully, casually explaining to each other when one didn’t want to do what the other suggested and maturely discussing options and compromises. I smiled smugly and basked in my parenting genius. Teaching Ethan to be self-assured and willing to stand up for himself is something that Gavin and I are so keen to nurture and I considered this a step in the right direction.
Until the following day, Ethan and I were making pancakes. His bowl stirring enthusiasm was getting a bit out of hand and I was anticipating mopping up smashed ceramic and pancake batter, I asked him to switch from bowl stirring duty to ladle duty. To which he replied, in the most serious and snarky tone, “Mum I do what a want to do, remember?”. Jaw-meet-floor. Excuse me?
It’s been a few weeks since I accidentally taught the 4-year-olds that they don’t have to do what they don’t want to do. My well-intentioned parental advice has not only been thrown in my face during meltdowns but the kids are now slinging it at each other like mud. Shouting “I don’t have to do what I don’t want to do!!” at each other at the first opportunity.
While the principle of not following the herd and staying true to want you want in life still stands, teaching the kids the appropriate context and nuance of it is, however, proving more difficult. Luckily, Hannah’s parents have found it funny (as well as frustrating I’m sure) and we’re slowly reminding the kids that standing up for themselves has to be done in a mannerly way. And that it doesn’t wash with your parents and grandparents.
Have any of you accidentally had a word, phrase or concept backfire on you before?
Please tell me I’m not the only one to make this mistake!
Also, how do you teach your kids to stand up for themselves and not just bend to the whims of other kids?