Yesterday, I received the following “incident report” from my 3-year-old daughter’s daycare:
“Ellen has NOT listened and has told me ‘no’ all afternoon when I asked her to do something or sit in time out. She was put in time out and crawled out of the corner after I told her multiple times to stay there.”
As I read over daycare’s version of a police report, the only thing that surprised me was this was the first documented incident we had received from the school, although I am certain it wasn’t the first act of defiance they had seen — they’d probably just finally had enough of our little devil child to write her a ticket.
I don’t blame them. She commits these crimes against us as well. We’ve tried reasoning and soft talking, raising our voices and gently popping her on the hiney, time outs, time ins (yes that’s a real thing), sentencing her to her room, ignoring the behavior, the “squirrel” tactic — where we just try to change the subject — and/or just about every other parenting technique recommended to handle a defiant toddler.
Many parenting experts who spend their time writing books and blogs on the matter will tell you this is totally normal for a 3-year-old, in fact one article I read actually described it as a toddler’s “job” to defy you because they are “asserting themselves” and learning to separate themselves from you and become an independent being, so it’s actually a good thing.
Um, OK. I’ll keep trying to remind myself of just how “good” it is.
I can only imagine if you were placing a classified ad for that “job” description, it would probably read something like this:
Help Wanted: Illogical, irrational, unreasonable little tyrant needed to join and terrorize a family organization. A strong penchant for disagreeing with everything a must. Experience in throwing extended temper tantrums with some kicking, hitting and spitting a plus. Team players who are willing to share are not encouraged to apply.
Let’s just say Ellen is exceptional at her job and girl needs a promotion.
I should clarify before I paint her as a total terror. She isn’t. She can be a sweet little angel for days and hug you and kiss you and tell you she “lubs” you and melt your heart into a puddle. But then we get several days of battling with her over really dumb things. And things she likes to argue over one day, she may not even seem to care about the next. At least have some conviction, little lady.
For example, last week I purchased her a beautiful white-linen sundress. It was without question my favorite dress I have ever bought for her. I could just picture her in it, with her olive skin, her brown curls gently cascading over her shoulders. I could almost see her running through a meadow on a summer’s eve picking wildflowers and chasing unicorns.
When I initially showed it to her she said, “I don’t like it,” but I just shrugged it off as her general disagreeable twee-ness. A week or so later, we had an occasion I wanted her to wear it to, so I pulled it out. As I began to put it on her, the fit started almost immediately. Kicking, screaming, trying to unbutton it as I was buttoning it up.
“This is a boy dress,” she wailed, with real tears running down her cheeks. I am not sure what exactly made it a “boy dress” in her twisted little 3-year-old mind. I am almost certain she has never seen a boy wearing a dress, so why she would think any dress would be categorized as such is unclear. Perhaps it was the fabric — her brother does have a white linen shirt. Maybe it was because it was white – instead of the usual pastel pinks, blues and greens I put her in. I have no idea.
We have these clothing battles often and some times I will give in and just let her wear whatever tacky ensemble she thinks looks good. Sure, wear that old Elmo shirt that’s two sizes too small and a tutu, you look fabulous. But not that day, she was going to wear this beautiful dress and skip through the meadow in my mind, picking daisies!
And I made her wear it and she did look beautiful. But I swear, she looked a little broken by it.
And so then I started to feel guilty about it. Am I crushing her spirit? I want her to be a strong, independent woman who can think and do things for herself. I can’t stand these “helicopter” parents who raise helpless children who can’t even make a sandwich or fill out a college application by themselves. But of course, I don’t want her to think she can just do whatever she pleases and never listen to her parents either. Where, oh where is the sweet spot of parenting between these two ends of the spectrum?
The next day I picked out two outfits she usually likes and held them up and said, “You pick. What would you like to wear today?” I would not ruin her life with a clothing choice today. No, ma’am, I would not.
“No, no, I don’t like doze,” she said as she went and picked up something else off the floor.
“I want to wear dis,” she said as she handed me the white linen boy dress. “It’s very boo-da-ful.”
Grrrrrrr. Good “job,” Ellen. Good “job.”
I give up.
She’ll turn 4 eventually, right?
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