Thursday, May 19, 2011

Four Year-Old Manipulation

With enough bows, clips, and saliva, you too can have this look.

My youngest daughter turns four in two weeks, and while she knows exactly how to inflict you-never-play-with-me-guilt, she’s yet to figure out how to use threats appropriately.

I mean, any good mediocre mother worth her weight in wet coffee grinds knows how to threaten a kid and get results, right?

My soon-to-be four year old desperately wants long hair (just like her best friend at school, and Kiki and Mirena on Fresh Beat Band) which is fine with me. The poor girl didn’t inherit any thick, lush hair genetics from my husband or me, consequently her hair is thin and wispy and requires a sufficient amount of saliva to keep it in place. Keeping it ultra short is not only darling on her tiny, pudgy face, but also a great way to make those locks look a bit thicker. Sadly there aren’t too many cartoon characters or TV show personalities that have short hair (unless you count Dora and while you may want to speak Spanish after watching her show, you definitely don’t want to replicate her head) which is why, my daughter now wants to have long hair. Like her best friend. And Kiki and Mirena.

I don't mind if my daughters have long hair, but I do mind them looking like field mice nest in it. My rule is that females in this house can have long hair as long as it’s fixed for school—that is, having some type of comb or brush go through it and making sure it is pulled back out of their eyes.

But my daughter does not particularly like to have her hair fixed. Especially when she is tired and hasn’t had her morning coffee breakfast yet. We had yet another battle of the wills this morning when I finally used my mom threat.

“Fine,” I said to her. “If you don’t want to fix your hair then I’m going to cut it.”
She was silent. I’m thinking that she’s going to finally cooperate.
“Do you want me to cut your hair right now?” I asked, smug smile on my face.
“Yes,” she replied. “Cut it.”
Shit. I hadn’t planned on that response. But it was 8:00 a.m. and I did have my coffee so I quickly switched to plan B and did what all moms do when their threats backfire and said, “Fine. I’m going to get some scissors.”

I searched the kitchen where we keep scissors and the junk drawer where we keep scissors and even my daughter’s craft desk where there are always scissors, but guess what I never found? I had great visions of my marching back into that bathroom with a pair of sharp, pointy cutting utensils and pretending to cut her hair—an effectively loud snip! snip! to startle her into fixed-hair submission, but now I had nothing. Just empty threats. Empty threats can work, mind you, they just aren’t very good for story telling later.

When I walked back into the bathroom, ready to tell her we’d have to wait on our haircut, she said, “I’m ready to fix my hair now.” And we proceeded with two ponytails and a barrette. Easier than I thought but it could have had a more exciting ending.

As parents we know what will motivate our children; what works for some doesn’t always work for others. We figure out exactly what will devastate our kids the most—losing video games, being grounded from friends, no TV extra chores—then dangle it just above their heads or take it away all together to produce the desired behavior, or as sufficient punishment for some misdeed. Parents hone this skill with time so that eventually we can even make it sound like losing the item was the kid’s idea. Those moments are pure parenting joy.

But my youngest doesn’t quite know how to hit below the belt yet. Her threats inevitably still only affect her. Most days if she doesn’t get her way, she threatens:
“FINE! THEN I’M NOT GOING TO PLAY WITH MY FRIENDS OR EAT MY DINNER!” Which is okay with me because that’s one less playdate I have to supervise and meal I have to make. Another one of her more popular threats: “FINE! THEN I WON’T HAVE ANY DESSERT AND I WON’T PLAY WITH YOU!” Again, these are okay with me since we’re trying to cut out needless sweets and I’m off the hook for  Polly Pocket pretending.

Tonight I told her she couldn’t have any more snacks which  included chewing gum, when she yelled, “FINE!” THEN I WONT BE A PART OF THIS FAMILY!”

This was a threat I hadn’t heard before. I’m pretty impressed that she’s clearly stepping up her game and trying to find the salt for my wound. Sadly, that one didn’t work on me either. I’d miss her if she left, don’t get me wrong. But in the evenings while I’m trying to make dinner, I fantasize about the day when everyone is gone and I don’t have to prepare a meal that is healthful and colorful with the five available items in my pantry, when I can in fact, resort to a bowl of Raisin Nut Bran in front of the TV. So if she’s not a part of the family anymore this time will come much sooner.

Sure. Maybe it’s not a good thing that she’s constantly threatening things when she doesn’t get her way. And I probably should be concerned that she uses the word FINE with such vehemence; I really don’t know where she gets that little tid bit.

Fine. I do know where she gets it. But one thing she hasn’t gotten from me is how to use threats appropriately and then how to follow through with them when they backfire. Maybe she’ll learn those things when she turns four.


BIKE LADY said...

Just read your essay on Very relatable--even though I'm somewhere past the middle place, though I'm not sure how far. Lovely.

Anjuli said...

Oh my- what memories your post has brought back to me!!! :) I loved your ending with the 'fine' comment- Isn't it amazing how our kids pick up such things from us? Your daughter is a real cutie patootie w/ all her "Fine...I'll..." ha ha!!

Elaina said...

Just wanted to say you crack me up! (and oh how I long for a bowl of cereal in front of the TV for dinner too)