When my four-year-old son Luke wants something, he wants it. He wants it and he wants it now. “No” is a hard word for him to hear. Anyone who’s ever witnessed Luke’s response to my answer no when he really wants something understands that he ranks up there with the best of the preschoolers. The boy has a voice and a face; yes, he’s a world-class actor and anyone would be convinced that the world is, indeed, about to end.
We are focused on teaching him to accept no with grace, but, to say the least, it’s a work in progress. Understanding that no means no is a difficult lesson for kids to learn, but as a parent, isn’t that my job?
I want my son to grow into a young man, who, because he wasn’t pacified every time he was disappointed or upset that he didn’t get something he wanted, can accept the answer no in all arenas of his life. It’s a life lesson, people, and one I think a few boys in the news lately may have missed when they were four, five, and six.
So when I do tell my son no and he throws a massive fit, I try to stick to my guns. I don’t give him what he wants because he’s crying, even though there are moments I want to more than anything. Moments when all the moms are looking at me and my face is burning and I feel like crying right along with my boy. Really, it would be so much easier to give him what he wants. That piercing cry, that loud scream: anything to make it stop!
Instead I am steadfast in my answer. Four year olds are not equipped for logic, so I don’t try to reason with him too much. In a moment of desperation, I might threaten him (No screen time for a week!), but I don’t give in.
I wait for the wave to pass, and, depending on the severity of his response, when possible, I insist we leave. It’s not always possible.
I understand this his temper tantrums are uncomfortable for everyone around, not just me. But please, for the love of God, don’t you try to get him to stop. Even though it may seem like I don’t, I’ve got this.
Two times inside of a month seemingly well-intentioned folks have stepped in during his outbursts thinking they could save the day (and perhaps the ears of everyone around). Now, if they would have tried to distract him with jokes or an activity to take his mind off what he wanted, I wouldn’t be writing this.
Instead, they bribed him with treats.
Don’t they see this is undermining my parenting, reinforcing his behavior, and teaching him the exact opposite of what I’m trying to get him to learn? Is peace and quiet more important that bringing up boys who are not rewarded for bad behavior?
The first time was at tennis camp. Luke’s session was first, and then we had an hour to wait while my seven-year-old daughter Meghan had her session. Luke wanted my phone, but I told him no. There were other boys his age also waiting, and they were all playing without devices; there was no reason he couldn’t play along with them. There’s plenty of green space to play where we go to tennis. I’d much rather him run and play with other boys than space out in front of a screen. There’s a time and place for that, but this day wasn’t it.
He cried, and cried, and cried. He even used phrases that sounded cute coming out of his four-year-old mouth: I’m just so disappointed! It took every ounce of willpower I have not to give him my phone to stop the madness.
After a lot of crying, he finally stopped. But as we were walking out, there was something else he wanted Who knows what it was—I can’t remember now. These events tend to blur together after a while. And again, when I said no, he wailed. The tennis coach approached us and said, “Ah, Luke, you’re having a bad day, aren’t you? Here, have a sucker. Take two.” He handed my son two brightly colored Dum-Dum suckers before I could even register what was happening. Yes, he stopped crying. I bit my tongue and forced a smile. I like the tennis coach and didn’t have the courage or energy to make a scene, but really, inside I was fuming.
The next instance was a few weeks later. Meghan started school and Luke and I were going to have a lunch date at Panera Bread. He loves Panera Bread and it should have been a fun afternoon. But when Luke asked if he could get a chocolate chip cookie and I said no, the fun ended. Crying ensued. It wasn’t his worst fit, for sure, but he wasn’t happy. The man behind the counter took one look at him crying on the floor and he said, “I have some broken chocolate chip cookies I can’t sell, can I give them to him?”
So let me get this straight. My son just asked for a cookie and I said no. But now he’s crying so I should give him the ones you are offering? Is that your logic? Maybe you didn’t hear him ask, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Through clenched teeth I responded, “No, thank you, I just told him he couldn’t have a cookie.” The young guy looked at me like I was the worst mother in the world for denying my son a cookie. I didn’t feel the need to explain that the sugar-filled yogurt he was about to get was already more than enough sugar for the day, plus we have a one-treat-a-day rule and he’d be getting a homemade chocolate treat with his sister after dinner. Not that it was any of his business why I said no to the cookie. Just wait, young buck. You’ll get it, one day. Just. You. Wait.
Either way, this has got to stop. If my son is crying, please don’t feel like you or I have to do whatever it takes to make it stop. I get it. No one wants to hear it. Believe me, I don’t want to hear it. I wish there was a way to magically make it stop. But not at the expense of forming my son’s character.
Before you get all judge-y and think I’m some sort of overly strict mom who never says yes to anything, please know that I’m not. I firmly believe in the wise words, “Say yes when you can, no when you must.” My children hear yes more than no; I’m sure of that. But no is a necessary part of childhood and my kids have to learn how to deal with it. All kids need to learn this important life skill.
Parenting is hard work, but those well-intentioned people are making it harder. Luke is one tough kid and parenting him has challenged me in ways my pre-children self never could have imagined. But I’m trying. I promise you, I’m giving it my all. Please, let me keep doing it in the best way I know how and if his crying is bothering you, get some earplugs. Don’t offer him candy or cookies to shut him up.