Lately, I've realized a few things about my little Red Chief. At the age of two and a half, he's developing strong opinions of his own, and he's finally acquired most of the language tools he needs to make his will known.
When he was younger, it was so easy to just pick him up and make him do what he needed to do, especially since I usually couldn't tell exactly what it was that he wanted. But Red Chief is now at the point at which it is usually easier to go along with what he wants rather than make him do what I want.
The problem is that what he wants isn't always what he should have. Red Chief would happily live on suckers and hot dogs, wear no clothes, and spend the day playing disassembling electronics if I let him. But I can't. There are compromises I can make--I can let him sift the flour when we're baking together even though I know it will make a big mess, I can let him wear pajamas all day, I can let him eat an orange instead of an apple--but I can't compromise on everything. He has to brush his teeth, he has to wear a diaper, and he has to sit in his car seat when he rides in the car.
Lately, as I've been trying to focus more on him and less on myself, I've really come to see that he has a strong will of his own that needs to be respected. I'm not planning on letting him become a spoiled, disobedient little boy if I can help it, but I can give him more choice over what he does each day.
Here are some things that have helped me to persuade rather than to force:
- Give him a choice: crayons or paint? tortilla or bread? walk up the stairs or hop up like a frog?
- Ask myself, "Does this really matter?" Will it really matter in the long run if he wants to put socks on his hands? Probably not. I am trying to pick my battles more carefully and focus only on what's really important.
- Give him chances to feel in control: let him make the rules when we play together, let him teach the Family Home Evening lesson sometimes, let him choose where he wants to sit at the dinner table.
- Be consistent on things that are important. If we make important tasks into habits and routines, he's less likely to rebel, because it's just what we do every day. If I make exception even once, he's going to ask to do it again every day for the next few weeks.
- Sing a song about it. If I ask him to pick up his toys, he does nothing, but if I start singing the "Clean Up" song, he gets right to work. Sometimes this calls for creativity, but he doesn't care if a song is terrible and doesn't rhyme as long as he can understand what it's about.
- Do things together and by example. If I want Red Chief to sit at the table to eat lunch, I probably shouldn't eat mine in front of the computer. If I want him to go upstairs for his bath, I need to go up with him. If I want him to use his napkin, I need to show him how I use mine.
- Teach first. Sometimes I realize that I'm asking Red Chief to do the impossible: I ask him to do do something I've never taught him to do. If I want Red Chief to pick up his books when he's done with them, I need to show him how to put them back. Many times.
- Put my wishes second. I have a rather strong will myself, and I can't let my pride get in the way of Red Chief's well-being. When I am able to look past myself, I often see that Red Chief actually has a valid concern, and is not just being naughty.