Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Refuse to Argue With a Three Year Old

“I refuse to argue with a 3 year old”

This is what my daughter’s preschool teacher said to me when I commented on her deft handling of a particularly obstinate student. “Well,” said this veteran teacher, “I am the grown -up, and she needs to know that some rules aren’t negotiable”.

This hit a chord with me. At the time I was a first time mom of a three year old who battled with her daughter constantly about everything. I wanted to make sure she developed her own personality and thought she should be allowed to voice her opinions about her likes and dislikes in her daily routine. I really thought that the daily battles about wearing shoes, getting in the car seat, going to school, leaving school, not getting every toy she wanted at Target, brushing her teeth, not running away from me in the parking lot, having her hair brushed, …the list goes on and on as any mom of a three year old can attest, anyways, I thought these battles were an important part of her development. And maybe they were, but the teacher was right - some rules are not up for debate. Over time, I learned to choose my battles, and eventually I could let the unimportant ones go, but I was as stubborn as any three year old in the battles that mattered.

So, let’s see, the daily battles….

Wearing shoes - not negotiable. You get a choice of shoes, but they must go on your feet.

Car seat - not negotiable. Since I am bigger than you, I can help you with that. And no, biting me will not change my mind.

Going to school - no, you have to go. Mom needs her 2 and a half hours of me time. You will have fun.

Leaving school - sorry, school is over, I am sure your teachers are ready for you to go home. And lying boneless on the ground will not change my mind - luckily, I can carry you.

Toys at Target - I used to be an easy sell, here. Smile at me sweetly and behave appropriately for five minutes and you get the Barbie of your choice. I find now that appropriate behavior is expected without bribes and toys are purchased when I am feeling rich and generous. Which happens about as often as a lunar eclipse. So get off the floor and quit screaming.

Brushing teeth - not negotiable. Still looking for clever ways that don’t include bribery or nose plugging to make this happen peacefully. The daughter I am writing about here is now 13, and we still battle over this.

Running from me in the parking lot - BIG no. You will hold my hand or I will carry you. Kicking me repeatedly in the thigh will not change the outcome - lucky for you, I have a high tolerance for pain.

Brushing hair - Fine. Go with your hair looking like that. I learned quickly that battles over hair and clothes fell into the unimportant category. Let them brush their own hair and style it themselves (same for boys - or simply shave their heads). Let them express themselves with sloppy uneven ponytails held together by 25 clips. It doesn’t matter if their clothes don’t match, or are backwards, or are pajamas. In their little lives, most battles are unwinnable. I let them have the clothes and hair.

The lesson of refusing to argue with a three year old has also served me well as a teacher. In my classroom I have few rules. I try hard to create an environment of exploration, creativity and discovery. But you can’t hit, bite or spit, and if you do you will need to think of a way to handle the situation better next time, as well as make it up to the friend who was your victim. And luckily, I am as stubborn as any three year old, so if you choose to sit on the floor and suck your thumb instead of talking to your friend, that’s OK. I will sit here next to you until you are ready. It is also not ok to jump on the furniture or throw food. And if you keep forgetting that rule after the hundredth time I have reminded you, then you and I will sit over here and talk about it. Feel free to go boneless, I can carry you.

But it is OK to feel the paint on your hands. It is OK to use the entire bottle of glue for that little piece of paper. It is OK to put the rice from the sensory table into the play dough - doesn’t that feel cool? It is OK to cover the cars in play dough - where did they go? Feel free to put the entire bottle of glitter on that little spot of glue - I wonder what will happen? Feel like cutting? Please - not your hair! Here is a stack of paper - go to town!

I definitely try to never argue with a three year old - rules and boundaries are important, and the younger you learn that the better. But I also try very hard to let them win some. The older I get, and the more time I spend around little ones, the less battles I feel the need to win. Especially in the classroom - you need to be a good friend, but feel free to explore your world - how else will you learn?

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Thank you very much for your enlightened look at this tiring age :) I was having a day that I needed someone else to understand....and you stated it perfectly.