These days, one of the buzz words for children's behaviour is "compliant" or "non-compliant." A compliant child is one who will generally follow instructions and obey requests with little resistance. These kids are often pleasers, who like to do as they are asked because they like making others happy, or they enjoy the rewards of being obedient. Non-compliant children have to be coaxed into doing things. Their initial instinct is to take the opposite side of everything.
I was a compliant children because I liked the reward. James was a compliant child because he liked to please others. Colin and Caleb are both compliant children.
Benjamin is not.
No, not by a long shot.
Ben is a kid who will take the other side even if it means he loses out on something he really wants, even if he would have probably chosen your side in any other circumstance. Benjamin sees a challenge in every statement and request and direction. And he is challenging out parenting skills every single minute of the day. (It's exhausting.)
The other day after a rough morning, James was off-loading about how he just doesn't get where Benjamin is coming from. James didn't understand how Ben doesn't see that life would be pleasanter for all if he just did as he was told.
The next evening, this happened:
It was Ben's bedtime. We've been having trouble getting him to stay in bed. So I explained to Benjamin that if he got out of bed, he would lose his pancake breakfast in the morning and would have to have cold cereal instead. 5 minutes later he was out of bed. James put him back and told him if he got out again he would lose his TV time. Then we took away his bike riding time. And so on and so on until at 10pm he came down again and James said "That's it! Now you lose..." his voice trailed off. There was nothing more we could take away from him. Benjamin was put to bed another 3 or 4 times, before he finally fell asleep.
Finally at 10:15pm we won.
Actually, no we didn't. Yes, Ben was sleeping, but not because of anything we did. He just finally decided to go to sleep. He didn't care about any of his lost beloved activities. He actually reminded us in the morning that he was only having cereal. He shrugged his shoulders at the lost TV. He pouted for a moment at the bike, but then just took off at a run.
As I reflected on the experience, I was struck with the only answer: I have to refuse to play his game. From now on, he has three things he can lose: fancy breakfast, TV episode, and bike riding. If he gets out of bed three times, he's lost them all. After that, I just ignore him. There's no percentage in my wasted energy of fighting with him to go to bed; he'll only end up going when he decides he's ready. My hope is that if he loses those three same things consistently for days on end he'll eventually decide if it's really worth it.
And therein lies the parenting moment for the future. This is a kid who will likely always push boundaries. My job will not be to break him and mould him into a compliant child. He will never, ever be one. Instead, it will be my job to make sure he understands that every action has a consequence. Ben will always weigh the consequence versus his desire to do something against the rules. Sometimes (as he does even now as a three year old) he will choose the consequence and forge ahead full speed anyway. But I hope as he grows and the consequences get more serious that we will have armed him with enough good sense to steer clear of the decisions that might land him in jail, or get a girl pregnant, or something that will have a lasting effect on his life.
There will be times when the consequences are not life-threatening or life-altering, like not doing school assignments or not working effectively in a job. As his mother I will want to step in and defend him, save him, shelter him. But as his mother it will be my job to stand aside and allow him to feel the full brunt of the consequences of his decision. Only in this exercise, now and in the future, will he learn how to succeed as a non-compliant personality.