Monday, July 8, 2013

The Age of Contrariness

Parents often talk about the “Terrible Twos.” Many parents find that the “Terrible Threes” are worse. But my son appears to be heading directly into the “Terrible Fours.” His twos weren’t so bad. His threes involved the occasional tantrum, but he learned to control himself reasonably well. But as he approaches his fourth birthday in a few months, his willfulness and contrariness are getting to be an issue.

Here’s a typical conversation in our house:

Son: Mama, I want a snack.
Me: I will get you a snack as soon as I finish what I’m doing.
[5 minutes later]
Me: OK, Buddy, what would you like for a snack, watermelon or animal crackers?
Son: Um, I’m not hungry.
[2 minutes later]
Me: How about you ask politely?
Me: Here are your animal crackers, and some lemonade.
Son (pouting): I want watermelon! And juice!

(For the record, he got animal crackers and lemonade.)

I’ve begun to learn to tune out the constant chorus of, “But I don’t WANNA!!!” every time I ask him to sit down to a meal, or go upstairs to get ready for bed, or stop playing with a particular toy. He could be starving to death, but if I tell him he has to sit down at the table for supper, he refuses on principle. Even when he’s struggling to keep his eyes from closing from sheer exhaustion, he will loudly protest going to bed, just to prove that he can.

He’s old enough that he’s gotten a tiny taste of independence, and he likes it.

I try to give him options whenever I can, to let him have some control. If he fights getting dressed, I let him pick the shirt he wants to wear, or I’ll offer him a choice of two or three different vegetables at dinner time, or I’ll suggest three or four games or toys he can amuse himself with. But that’s not enough for my contrary boy. He doesn’t want Mama’s advice or suggestions. He wants to do what he wants, when he wants. But the results of that would not be pretty.

If I gave in to his contrariness, an average day would consist of waffles and juice for breakfast, six juice boxes and three brownies for a snack while he played computer games for six hours, swimming in the pool while having a lunch of another brownie and some lemonade, spending the afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese, ice cream with gummy bears and whipped cream for dinner, riding his bike without a helmet, and then four more hours of computer games and never actually going to bed. All while wearing no pants.

And as much as I wouldn’t mind spending a day like that myself every once in a while (well, except for the Chuck E. Cheese part), all of that in a single day is probably not a good idea for a little boy. But maybe I’ll buck conventionality just a little bit and we can have ice cream with gummy bears tonight (after dinner, not instead of dinner). And if people raise their eyebrows at me, so be it. I’ve got a little contrariness, myself.

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