Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Parenting in the Bizzaro Universe

This morning I punished my son. He was angry, crying, and completely frustrated.

The punishment? I made him eat something he really wanted for breakfast.

Yes....giving him what he wanted made him furious.

It all started over a packet of Cinnamon Swirl Cream of Wheat. It was the last one in a house of two children; both who love Cinnamon Swirl Cream of Wheat. Let the conflict begin.

The Rationalist got to the box of cereal first, claiming the packet for himself. Intuitive Monkey proceeded to cry, wail, and bemoan the fact that he wanted it, and it wasn't fair for his brother to have it, and the world is a cruel, cold place that doesn't care about him...etc.

Their solution was that nobody should get the Cream of Wheat. The Rationalist, pressured by his brother's temper tantrum, was willing to forgo eating the cinnamon bowl of goodness. I appreciated his willingness to sacrifice, but was unwilling to let Monkey manipulate the situation. He has a bad habit of whining for what he wants, causing his brother to cave in and give him what he desires.

I declared their solution as unacceptable.

I was bumping up against the childhood version of "fairness" which is nothing more than a thinly veiled version of selfishness: You have something I don't, or can't, have...so that means you can't have it either. It's a principle based in miserly jealousy rather than being based in a desire to be equitable.

I took my stand and explained that someone has to eat the last packet. Instead of being angry that one of them doesn't have it, they should be willing to let the other person have something good.

Oh the howls that assailed my ears! This was too much for them to comprehend. The Rationalist admitted that he had teased Monkey about having the last packet. His guilt about his attitude when he snatched it out of the box was eating away at him.

"Just let Monkey have it!" he pleaded.

"No. You're right that you shouldn't have teased him about it. That was mean and you should apologize, but it isn't wrong for you to eat the last bowl of Cream of Wheat."

"But...but...that's not fair to him! I won't eat it! I won't! You can't make me!"

"You will eat it, or you won't have anything else for breakfast. If you feel bad about the way you treated your brother then I suggest that next time you should be kind in the way that you speak to him. Your punishment will be having to eat something, knowing you weren't very nice about having it."

He threw himself onto the couch and began to sob.....over Cream of Wheat guilt.

I made the Cream of Wheat; one Cinnamon Swirl for The Rationalist, one Maple and Brown Sugar for Monkey. They came to the table, The Rationalist wiping his tears away and swearing that he wouldn't eat it.

A minute later, Monkey leaned over and whispered to him,"It's OK to eat it, I don't want it now anyway."

Thud...thud...thud...that's the sound of me hitting my head against the wall.


MInTheGap said...

Kids are definitely good at manipulating. My youngest (now about 18 months) has taken to saying "Owee" when she's not getting her way.

Suffice it to say that we were at the library last night, and she wanted to take out all the books. I picked her up, and she just started saying "Owee" really loud (like I was hurting her).

They learn early that they can say and do things to manipulate each other (or boss each other around) and it's most frustrating when you're trying to teach them something-- especially teaching them to be kind to one another or that they are not the boss.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

See what you get for trying to be reasonable?

I think it all worked out perfectly.