Saturday, September 25, 2010

spoilage and manipulation

The yarnharlot just posted a wonderful synopsis of the "you can't spoil a baby by holding him/her" topic. Go read it, then come back. Thanks.

I'd like to jump off from where she left off, and talk about spoiling kids in general, and this horrible idea of "manipulation". It's midnight, so I'm sure this is not going to be as eloquent as I'd like.

I have a 3 year old, and it seems like every moment of every day is spent with my trying to manipulate/cajole/coerce him into doing every single thing that needs doing. "If you put pants on, we can go to the park." "If you hit your brother, you will get a time out." And when I'm not manipulating/cajoling/coercing him, I'm pulling out the "I'm the mommy and I said so" guns. The poor little dear gets so little free will. His life is largely dictated by the big people in his life. I mean, yes, I give him choices wherever I can (the green shirt or the red one?) but not everything is a choice (you may not go to the store naked, you will wear your seat belt). Can you blame a kid for using his most powerful skills (screaming, crying, thrashing about) to try to eek out a bit of control in his life? You might call what I'm doing "action/consequence", but it's the framework of their outbursts, too. Action: give me the thing I want, or Consequence: I'll scream like a banshee in the middle of the store. Except with the toddler set the consequence comes right on top of the demand.

I'm generally of the opinion that adults consider a child's behavior manipulation when it is either a) effective or b) being used to get something the parent really does not want to give. For example, my son "manipulates" us into staying with him while he falls asleep. I'd much rather use the 8-9pm hour to clean up the kitchen and get ready for the next day, but he takes a really long time to fall asleep and he doesn't like to do it alone. He's THREE. He is never left alone for longer than a few minutes during the day - why would he feel comfortable laying in a dark room by himself for an hour?

As adults we use manipulation throughout all of our interactions, but we've developed a lot of finesse. As far as I can imagine, we all honed our skills on our parents. Honestly - refusing to give into manipulation is probably a good thing when the child's best interests are at heart. But doing it to teach them that manipulation won't work is foolish. They're just going to get better and practice more.