My two-year-old has been having a hard time with whining lately, because…well, because he’s two. Parents know that the terrible twos don’t really start right when the child turns two years of age, but rather spans a stretch from when they’re about two-and-a-half until midway through their third year. A good friend of mine coined the term three-nager for this age group.
My toddler has entered this stage like a twelve-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert, with claws drawn and a touch of crazy. This means my wife and I are constantly repressing the urge to stab ourselves in the eye with one of the baby’s plastic sporks. Yesterday, I caught the two-year-old sticking his finger in the hole of an electrical socket and trying like crazy to expand the hole by picking at it with his fingernail. When I saw this, I immediately pulled him away and explained that he is never, ever to do this again. “It would hurt a whole lot,” I tell him–but my toddler has a toddler brain, and toddler brains are wired to reason that everything their parents say and do are really a ploy to trick them into eating spinach. He therefore responds to all of our commands with an emphatic “No” followed by a poignant “I will never do that!”
True to form, his response in this instance was:
“No, I WILL do that” (referring to sticking his finger in electrical sockets).
Me: “You want to be hurt?”
The two-year-old: “Yes, I want to.”
Me: “But…it will hurt a lot.”
The two-year-old: “Yes, I want to be hurt a lot.”
Me: “Like, it will hurt more than when you fell down on the patio earlier and cried.”
The two-year-old: “Yes, I want to fall down and cry.”
The biggest mistake I always seem to make is that I try to reason with him as though he’s a human being–however, toddlers are anything but; I’ve grown convinced that they’re actually possessed by the spirits of long-deceased talking chimpanzees whose sole mission is to test the resolve of parents. Why chimpanzees? Because of toddlers’ affinity for handling their own poop and being without pants, is why.
The trick to parenting a terrible twoer or a three-nager is to avoid bluffing whenever possible, because they are not really listening anyway and will pretty much agree to whatever threat you make if it helps prove the point they believe they’re making. I think this (and the chimp demon inside of him) is the real reason my toddler goes without pants as much as he does. In fact, I have mentally prepared myself for the day when he storms into my room, throws his pants on the floor, and declares: “You are NOT going to bring me down with this, man—NOT today!” and then with a fist to the heavens to bring home his point he adds, “Fight the power!” The four-year-old would stand just behind him, iPod in hand with Big Yellow Taxi playing on it. He would raise his fist along with his younger brother and, once the tirade was over, the two would leave, hands snapping in unison like something from a tough-guy, alley gang scene in a 1970’s musical.
When our kids do something wrong and know it’s wrong, my wife and I send them to time-out, which we have designated as the lower steps of the staircase. We do not send the kids to the time-out spot for needless whining or crying. For this, we send them to The Whiny Couch, with the stipulation that they only have to stay there as long as they are whining or crying (not screaming–they are not allowed to scream unless they are hurt). They can leave The Whiny Couch whenever they wish, so long as they’ve finished their whining or crying.
The Whiny Couch has been mostly a success, and so we decided to take it one step further. To reinforce to the kids that going to The Whiny Couch was not punishment but rather a space to go to regain control of their emotions, whenever my wife or I felt agitated or too frustrated to be able to control our own emotions we volunteered to go to The Whiny Couch for a few minutes. And the plan worked, for there have been several occasions when the four-year-old, unsolicited, has announced that he needed to go sit on The Whiny Couch for a few minutes because he felt a tantrum coming on.
I adore The Whiny Couch–and what’s not to love? A few minutes away from the kids where you can rest? Absolute heaven.
Of course, I began to love it too much, which is why I’ve since been banned from The Whiny Couch by my wife. In hindsight, I may have gone overboard with the magazine rack, vibrating massage neck and back pillows, mini fridge and sleep mask. Probably shouldn’t have pre-scheduled regular hourly visits there, either.
Live and learn, I guess.