My youngest one has made his transition. He is now officially three years old and with that he has shifted from my 'always agreeable, eager to help' two-year-old into my 'often stubborn, refusing to do it any way but his' three-year-old. For those who say the two's are terrible, I have to disagree. I have found the two-year-old year to be a period where whatever my sons did, I thought it was irresistibly cute. "Awww, look Honey! He has climbed into the bathroom sink and is washing himself after going potty. Isn't that resourceful!" "What a big boy! You pulled out all of the clothes from your dresser and chose the one outfit to dress yourself!"
By the time they reach the three-year-old mark, it doesn't seem as cute anymore. I am not thrilled with their gross motor development as they are jumping on the couch after the 7,452nd time reminding them that, "Couches are for sitting or laying. You may jump on my big bed if you need to jump." Their cognitive and verbal abilities have developed further as well. Not only can they decide what they want to do, they can tell you in full sentences why they HAVE to do it RIGHT THEN, regardless of your calm explanation of why it isn't unsafe or not the best timing. They can also tell you with full authority why they will NEVER, EVER do what you ask of them. However, their reasoning skills still have some ways to go. It makes logical sense for them to need to paint a picture when it is past their bedtime or wear crocs to the mall when it is 30 degrees outside. And rue the person who stops them from implementing their plan! With this shift, it has required me to use extra patience, focus, and creativity to accomplish any sort of routine task lately.
The other evening, we needed to run to the store. I asked my boys to go potty, get their shoes on, and then get their coat. This is the same spiel I give every time we prepare to leave the house. This time, my youngest one decided he would rather play in his room. I told him again that we needed to leave in two minutes and he had a job to do. He said, "No! I am not going to go." I explained that he couldn't stay home and that I needed his help picking out the right printer ink at the store. After a few attempts at getting him excited about going, I finally scooped him up and carried him to the car with his shoes in my hand while saying, "I know you don't want to go, but I cannot leave you here and I need to go. You can put your shoes on when we get there."
By this time, he was grumpy, I was grumpy, and my oldest son was picking up on it too. I was dreading having to take the two of them into the store (without shopping carts for them to sit in I might add). I looked in my rear view mirror and decided to try to lighten the mood by being silly. "You better not smile," I joked with a grin. "Whatever you do, don't smile!" I saw the corners of his mouth turn up and my oldest one let out a giggle. "Don't you smile..." I said again in a silly voice. My youngest one started to laugh and I said dramatically, "Oh, NO! You better not laugh!" Both boys then started laughing and the game was on. For the rest of the car ride, throughout the store, and all the way home the boys asked if I would "say another 'don't'". I am sure the people at the store thought I was crazy as I told my boys, "Don't you dare hold my hand... Oh, MAN! You did it! Well, you better not stay right by me!"
I will admit, I had mixed feelings after playing this game. I didn't want my children to think that it was 'fun' to do the opposite of what I asked them to do. However, I know that is not what they got from it. First, I try to ask them what I want them to do, rather than telling them what not to do. For me to say, "Don't do this and you better not do that" was novel. More importantly, I think that they were able to feel power over the mundane situation of having to follow a long set of rules that were not that kid friendly. (Going to the store for printer ink doesn't exactly rank up there with a trip to Disney World.) It allowed them to break up the norm within a safe context and it had us all laughing. Would I ever really tell them to not buckle up their seat belts? No! So, that was the fun of it.
As soon as the game was over and I switched back to 'regular' Mom mode, I talked to them calmly about how much fun it was being silly with them. When discussing our 'best' and 'worst' part of the day, they both said that the game was their favorite part. At bedtime that night, they requested the game and they took turns telling me what not to do. ("Don't you read me this book!") It made this time, which is normally 'routine' at best, seem lighthearted and joyful.
Sometimes I let my 'to do' list get in the way of incorporating fun into transitions from one activity to another or normal routines. I get too wrapped up in finishing the grocery shopping, getting the kid's hair washed in the bath, or making it to 'lights out' at bedtime, that I rush us all. When this happens and my littlest one needs to assert his newly-found will the most, my focus isn't on finding a compromise to meet both of our needs, but on accomplishing tasks. This not only leaves me feeling exhausted and short on time, it leaves my little ones feeling powerless and lacking in connection as well. Through a silly "You Better Not" game, we found a way to laugh our way through our night and find humor and love in the normally mundane moments of life.
When you feel like you seriously cannot give another request in getting your children to cooperate, maybe try adding a little silliness (and some reverse psychology) into it. On second thought..."You better not!" ;)