Parenting by Ear

I spend a lot of time saying “don’t”.  Don’t play on the stairs.  Don’t whine.  Don’t touch that hot curling iron.  As a toddler, I empathized that Thor lived in a World of No.  That’s a hard place for a baby to live.  I do try to balance out the negative with the positive and offer him alternatives, but some days–good lord.

The other day, he was standing on the rungs of my chair, mouth against my ear, and he screamed like something had bitten him.  Keeping in mind that he frequently makes loud noises for no apparent reason other than the amount of sheer youthful adrenaline pumping through his veins, with my ear ringing, I turned and bellowed at him not to do so.  After apologizing, he informed me that Daddy had poked him.  So what was I going to do?  Bellow at Daddy like that?

Bryan and I don’t talk to each other that way.  It’s very rare for voices to be raised.  Very, very rare.

I did, just to even it out, but everyone knew it was just for show.  Even just pretending felt wrong and uncomfortable.

I thought about it.  If I don’t use that tone with Bryan, who is an adult and could comprehend it, and who is too big to be intimidated by it, why would I use it on a small child, who hasn’t finished developing social skills, and who is still tiny enough to be intimidated by my towering 5’3″ frame?  When I put it to myself that way…

After a few minutes, and when we were all in the same room together, I apologized to Thor and told him just that:  If I wouldn’t talk to Daddy that way, I shouldn’t talk to him that way, and I was going to strive not to raise my voice like that at him again.  I did explain that it would help me to stretch my patience if he would give doing-what-I-say-the-first-time-without-whining a go.  We agreed on it.

I’m not some hippie who thinks you shouldn’t discipline your children, but I am some hippie who believes you have to model the behavior you expect from them.  How can I expect him to express anger in an appropriate way, if my response to him–in anger–is to snarl and growl?  I can’t.  I have to model and then enforce the responses I want from him.  It’s that or beat him with a stick until he complies, and I am absolutely the hippie who doesn’t believe in beating with sticks.

More than that, it’s mean to physically intimidate someone.  It’s mean to intimidate someone into being fearful.  I don’t want to do that to this sweet, only-partially-grown person.  I just hope I learned my lesson early enough that it doesn’t add a year to his future therapy.

As I type, Thor has found and employed something like a rape whistle and my ears are going to start bleeding at any moment.  But he thinks he is playing me a song, and I kind of owe him one for kicking him out of the living room when I needed ten minutes alone.  My ten minutes is up now, by the way.  Time to go read more of The Adventures of the Great Brain.

4 responses to “Parenting by Ear”

  1. This is an interesting post. I’ve found that with mine, the modeling has to be even more explicit. In other words, having restraint to ask four times before isn’t enough: “Do your homework. Hey, remember homework? No, do your homework. OMIGOD! GO DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE I JAM THIS PENCIL IN YOUR EAR!” No. It has to be, “Do your homework. I’ve already told you once to do your homework. Do you notice that I am not yelling at you? But I’m extremely irritated that I have to remind you, again, to do your homework!” And I still end up yelling, but he can’t say he didn’t see it coming.

    1. It’s different for every child. I don’t think there is a single parenting technique that works across the board. …because there isn’t a single technique that works across the board for all people.

  2. This is timely, as we are struggling with Andrew’s temper (from Daddy) and impatience (from Mama). He is hitting when he doesn’t get his way and the corner, while helping, is not really making the connection yet. It’s hard not hit back. But we don’t and try to praise more than we admonish. It’s sooooo hard. Trying to remember he is a DEVELOPING human and not a baby is tough. But we also tell him, almost hourly, that if he wasn’t so darm cute, we’d be selling him tot he gypsies! ; )


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