Butting Heads and the Magician’s Choice

Yesterday was a banner day for punishment, as I kept Eli on his couch for some forty minutes. It started with him waking me up from my nap — not a punishable offense, but one guaranteed to leave me groggy and with less than my full facilities. After a failed round of distract-the-toddler (“Why don’t you go find mom?” “No, I stay onna bed with you!”) I finally dragged myself out of bed. “Okay,” I told him, “take your binkie and your blanket back to your room.”

Fwoom! Straight from compliant to obstinate in two seconds. “No, you take my binkie and my blanket to my room.”

Normally I have wits enough to finesse these kinds of interactions, but see above re: groggy from nap. “Go to your couch!” I told him. When he said “No!” again I picked him up and took him to his couch.

In the next thirty minutes I argued with him. I moved his couch so he’d be forced to be in the same room as Misty and me but not looking at us. I wheedled. Every time that I asked him again to go get his binkie and blanket and he refused, I left him on his couch for several more minutes. Finally, Misty phrased my request differently and he lept to obey.

I stayed frosty, which is a point in my favor. But there were consequences: I was out of favor for the rest of the day. No more asking to play with me! That was probably for the best, as at the next infraction I would have been tempted to melt his brain with the power of my annoyance.

What was especially stupid about us going at it like a pair of rams is that I know better. Eli is very distractable, and can be led on to other, less annoying behaviors. When he’s being spectacularly obstinant, we can make him feel better with a series of Magician’s Choices.

It works like this: give a toddler two choices that differ slightly yet end up with the result you’re after. Amazing! you say. Surely they will see through this! And yet they do not! It is as if their brains are not yet fully developed. “Do you want to put on your shoes while sitting on the couch or at the door?” “It’s time to eat. Would you like to sit in this chair or that chair?” “Paper or plastic?” It can be hard to come up with these on the fly, but for guiding toddlers who are butting heads with you, they’re great.

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