Push back.


Bear with me while I do something we’re never supposed to do: I’m going to brag about my kid. But only for a second, and then we’ll move on.

John’s pretty well behaved. He’ll generally follow the rules (and make sure everyone else follows them) and because of that, he’s easy to be with. It’s not that we’ve never had bad days or that John is perfect in every way. He’s a kid, not a saint. But I think Matt and I have had it pretty easy when it comes to polite behavior.

So the past month has been a little bit shocking. John has decided to push back. On everything. Every word that comes out of my mouth. Every rule that we’ve had since he was toddling around.

John being John, he’s not running riot and lighting things on fire. Oh no. He’s arguing. Actually he would probably say he’s not arguing, he’s just asking.

Here’s an example.

Mom: “John, you can have five jelly beans!”

John: “Why not six? Why did you say five? Why is five the right number? Who decides why the number is five? Why do you get to decide? Why isn’t six the right number? What about seven? Why did you decide on five? When will it be time to have a sixth jellybean? If I don’t have the sixth later, can I have it now? How many jellybeans are there?”

He’s always done this to some extent, but in recent weeks has taken it to an entirely new level. It is non-stop, unreasonable, and often ends badly. It’s now crossing the line into sass, back-talk, and other bad behaviors. I appreciate that he’s an articulate kid, but I’d prefer that he use his powers for good rather than for evil.

I think I know where (at least part of) the problem is coming from. Traditionally, I have been very open to discussion and compromise. I’m willing to meet John in the middle on a lot of things, and in the past, that’s worked really well. Now that he’s going to push the boundaries until they break, I have to rein it in. Sometimes, whether he likes it or not (and whether I like it or not), the answer is “because I said so,” and that’s all there is.

For variety, John alternates relentless questioning with just pretending he can’t hear us at all. So the other thing I’m working on is my grown up voice. The other night John was shooting a basketball in the gym and I said, “John, do not let me see you shoot that basketball one more time,” in a voice so hard and cold it sounded like it was coming out of someone else’s body. I think the people sitting to my right were ready to call social services. But I’d been trying to get him out of there for half an hour already, and Serious Voice is the only thing he hears.

I’m not excited about this new turn of events. I don’t enjoy being rigid and using a slightly mean voice. But I think Matt and I both realize that we’re listing slightly, and we need to right the ship. I’m not going to like it at all. Wake me when it’s over.

2 thoughts on “Push back.

  1. This is only practice for when he hits middle school. But I am quite sure you will a chance to rest your Serious Voice for weeks or months at a time before then. Not having raised a child of my own I may have no right to talk but maybe you can find comfort in the fact that I was in my second year of teaching when a more experienced teacher pulled me aside and said I would have far less problems with ‘classroom management’ (discipline) if I learned to stop saying please at the end of my requests.

  2. I found natural consequences to be the best teacher. Perhaps instead of saying “don’t let me see you throw that basketball again” the comment could be “if you throw the ball again such and such will happen. That way he’s not pushing you but rather deciding to either accept the consequences or avoid them. Letting them know in advance what will happen is fair and teaches them that their decisions have ramifications. As far as the jelly beans, I’d have a talk as to what a fair number would be for him to have for the day, pointing out that perhaps 10 (or whatever number) is good to make the bag last longer, etc. If he has buy in to the decision he’s more likely to accept it. then, I’d put the jellybeans in a bowl and let him eat them when he wanted to and then when they’re gone they’re gone. If they are the ones making the decision they can’t blame you and you avoid battles. Set the parameters of acceptable options and give them the freedom to learn from their mistakes or successes.

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