When you live with a three-year-old who is constantly testing boundaries, learning new skills and picking and choosing which rules to follow, it can be very easy to fall into the habit of becoming overly negative. Since Johnny is afraid of nothing and thinks he can do whatever he wants whenever he likes, I'm constantly taking things away, pulling him down from places he shouldn't be, redirecting him to more appropriate activities or flat out telling him 'no.'
Some days I feel like all I do is tell him no, and I have tried to be mindful of making sure he gets enough positive reinforcment, but it can be difficult. In addition, some of it rubs off on him and he has gotten very good at saying no himself.
On Monday, I read this post by Mary at Not Before 7, in which she talks about her rule for what she allows and what she vetoes. "Is [it] illegal, immoral or dangerous?" If not, is it really that big a deal to say yes?
Mary's words of wisdom stayed with me for the rest of the day and into the next morning.
Right before breakfast, Johnny came out of the bathroom requesting a treat. "I want a Reese cup, Mom!" I started to say no, but before the word came out of my mouth, I paused. He usually eats a healthy breakfast. Has a Reese cup for breakfast ever killed anyone? I let him have the candy. And I think because we started our day off on a positive note, he also ate a big bowl of oatmeal with no protests.
After breakfast, we went upstairs to get dressed. Johnny didn't want to. "I want to wear my jammies today, Mom." Clothing is just not an area that I'm willing to turn into a battle. My only rule is he puts on clean underwear and socks everyday. But if he wants to wear a pirate hat, rain boots and an argyle sweater? Fine by me. So I told him, "Sure, you can wear your jammies. But if we need to go somewhere, you need to get dressed." Later that day, when we headed out to meet a friend at the playground, I handed Johnny his clothes and he wordlessly put them on.
On the way out the door, he decided he didn't want to wear his coat, opting instead for a baseball hat and scarf. I didn't insist, just tossed the coat into the bottom of the stroller in case he changed his mind. (He didn't. The boy is a furnace.)
And so it went. Each time he asked for something, I thought about what would happen if I said yes and what might happen if I said no.
This is not to say that he got to do whatever he wanted all day long. I wouldn't let him carry his huge ride-in car down the steps because it was dangerous. He had a short time out for snatching toys from Maureen. And I wouldn't let him put his tool belt on the cat because Jameson was looking mutinous and I could see a biting incident in the future if I didn't intervene. (Although the idea of Jameson wearing a tool belt is hysterical.)
You know what? It was a great day. I got everything done that was on my to-do list, Johnny stayed reasonably happy and agreeable all day and I didn't have to listen to him cry and whine.
I guess looking at it from his perspective, it's got to be tough to be denied everything you want to do.
I'm not going to feed him chocolate for breakfast every morning. But I have learned that it's okay to relax my own rules a little, and while being spontaneous is not my forte, I'm working on it.