Dr. Phil will tell you to never get into a fight with your child that you don’t win. You don’t have to commit to every challenge, but once you pick up that gauntlet, be sure you walk away the winner. It’s a good strategy. Otherwise, you teach your kids to fight you incessantly. In the battle of wills, the parent has to be the victor.
Of course, sometimes it’s hard to tell who won a particular encounter.
Tonight, we had a battle over supper with Nathan. He did not want his plate of food and threw a massive kicking and screaming tantrum over it. I picked my battle: he didn’t have to eat but the plate had to remain on the table near the TV. (Often, once the tantrum is over, he’ll decide he’s hungry and eat anyway.) Thus began a battle of screaming where he would try to grab the plate and bring it into the kitchen to dump it and I would take it from him and put it back where it belonged.
After an hour of this (which is unusual for Nathan), I began to wonder if maybe I was asking him to do something beyond him. He’d gotten up very early so maybe he was just tired and needed to go to bed early. I called Dave and asked him to come home so that we could do the usual routine of him putting Nathan to bed. (No sense pushing a further change which would only upset him more).
Another half hour of intermittent screaming and tantrums mixed with attempts at bargaining. Nathan would ask me to take away the plate and offer me a toy or tell me he’d be mad if I didn’t. I said no the first few times and then ignored it. Dave arrives and Nathan is just worn out. He tells Nathan that in five minutes, it’ll be time for bed.
Figuring we’re at the end of the battle, I clear away the untouched plate. A few minutes later, Nathan comes to me and very politely asks for cheese. I decide it’s not a bad idea, given that he hasn’t had any supper and get him a cheese slice. He’s cheerful and happy and playing and it’s like the last hour and a half never happened.
So here’s the question: Did he settle because he accepted screaming and tantruming at me wasn’t getting him what he wanted? Or did he settle because I “caved” and removed the offending plate of food? Did he settle because he knew bedtime was coming, which is what he wanted all along?
Don’t know the answer. At least two of the scenarios suggest the lesson learned was that if you tantrum long enough you’ll get what you want (the plate removed or bedtime). But then he did ask politely for the cheese rather than whining or screaming.
Ah well. Raising children is a long-term tactical campaign. You can’t obsess too long on any one single battle because there’s always another one coming.