This fatherhood thing is hard. It’s mostly trial and error, and it tends to be more error than trial. You do your best, stay up all night thinking about it, and then try it again the next day. You work hard to do the right thing and raise your kids to be good people. You make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s what parenting is all about. Every once in awhile, however, you try something, and it actually works. It’s like taking 12 shots to get to the green and then sinking an 85 foot putt. You just stare at it and wonder how you got everything right this time. It makes all of your hard work worth it. I recently had an 85 foot putt, and I would like to share it with you.
Our son is 2 years old, and he certainly has an attitude to match. Like most 2 year olds, he doesn’t like to hear “no.” He is normally a terrific kid, but he has a scream that can shatter glass and eardrums, and he likes to use it when he doesn’t get his way. He also makes spitting noises when he doesn’t want to listen to you. Because he’s so young, I don’t expect him to be happy when things don’t go his way. He’s not old enough to realize that there are reasons we tell him “no.” I did, however, very much want the screaming and spitting to stop.
We had tried quite a few things with little success. Timeouts don’t work, and it doesn’t make sense to yell at him to stop yelling. If we put him in his room, he’ll just wait until we shut the door and then start playing. That certainly doesn’t seem like much of a punishment, and it’s definitely not reinforcing good behavior.
Then, I decided to try something slightly different. Every time he would scream or spit, I picked him up and carried him into his bedroom. I laid him down in his bed and then shut the door while I stayed in the room. I sat down on the floor and simply stared at the wall. Since I stayed in the room, he wasn’t able to get up and play. If he got out of bed, I picked him up and laid him back down.
Once he realized that he couldn’t get out of bed, he started with his normal reactions. He would scream at the top of his lungs and make spitting noises at me. I just kept staring straight ahead. I didn’t flinch or acknowledge his actions in anyway. At first, he would keep going for 5-10 minutes. I would sit there during the entire time and just look at the wall. I always made sure that I could see him in my peripheral vision in case he tried to kick the wall or hurt himself in any way.
After a while, he realized that screaming and spitting wasn’t going to get him what he wanted. He stopped, and immediately said, “I’m sorry, daddy.” As soon as he said that, I picked him up and gave him a huge hug and explained the situation to him. If he screamed or spit at anyone else, I also ask him to go apologize to that person.
This process went on for a couple weeks. Every time we played the game, it would get a little shorter. 5-10 minutes of screaming turned into 1-2 minutes and an apology. That turned into 30 seconds. Pretty soon, he would say that he was sorry as soon as I laid him down. Next, he started apologizing as soon as I picked him up. Once he realized that screaming or spitting wasn’t going to get any reaction from me, good or bad, he changed his behavior.
Over the past week or so, there have actually been numerous instances where he normally would have turned and unleashed his voice. You can actually see the thought process take place in his eyes. Instead of screaming or spitting, he just turns and walks away. He’s still not happy with the situation, but he’s doing a better job of expressing himself.
Did I just turn our son into a fully functioning member of society? Absolutely not. It was a small victory though. It’s made me realize that maybe I can do this fatherhood thing after all. It certainly wasn’t the most fun experience, but it worked. Now, if I could just get our daughter to listen to us…