Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game On Little Man

Check out a version of this post on the Findlay Area Family website.

I was bamboozled by a 6-year-old. Tricked. Hoodwinked. Duped.

How is that possible? How did I let myself get sucked into the guilt-inducing games of a clever little boy and also, for a brief moment in time, actually think I might have done something terribly wrong? Boy, he's good...he's really good.

Nicholas is starting the "you love my brother more than me" and "I am no good at anything" ridiculousness that drives me nuts. He likes to see how upset I get every time he says, "You hate me!" and I protest for long periods of time trying to convince him otherwise. He likes to see me squirm when he says, "you think Christopher is a better piano player than I am" and I go on for hours about how he is a fine piano player and because of his ability he is always given a harder song to play for his recitals. He loves it when he says, "I am a terrible writer" and I gush about how I love to read his stories and am so impressed with his handwriting and how he is spelling the words so much clearer than before.

Keep in mind that I give praise where praise is due and often when the boys least expect it. I tell them I am proud of them even when they aren't doing the specific thing I am telling them I am proud of. But, I have been feeling kind-of bad lately that, boy, I must have really done something wrong for Nicholas to have such low self-esteem. How is it that he thinks he is bad and stupid and unloved? How did that happen? Where did I go wrong? I know that I give my kids praise. I know that I nurture and respect their differences and different abilities. I know that I offer words and actions of support.

One night after Nicholas got ready for bed and he and I were reading in his room he started acting really goofy and flopping around like a fish. It was time to turn out the lights and go to sleep and he was babbling about how I don't like the way he reads and I hurt his feelings. I was confused and asked him to specifically tell me what he meant. How did I hurt his feelings? His reply was "I don't want to tell you" and that set off the next half-hour of coaxing and cajoling to get him to tell me what was bothering him. He kept repeating that he wasn't going to tell me what I did and I kept insisting that he explain how I hurt his feeling. I needed to know how to remedy the situation but I couldn't do that if I didn't know what was at the root of his feelings. We danced around this until I realized that it was way past his bedtime and we were getting nowhere. Time to turn out the lights.

I was walking with my neighbor the next morning explaining what happened with Nicholas the night before when she said matter-of-factly, "yeah, my kids started that right around Nicholas's age and they still do it now that they are 10 and 12. Not quite as much as when they were younger but they still do it." Started what? Do what?

Try to get as much attention as possible; that's what. Whether it's claiming to love one sibling more than another, announcing that they are no good at anything or declaring that a parent has made them feel really bad about "something" it's clear that these self-absorbed little rascals have stumbled upon a really good way to get lots and lots of attention and push mom's buttons.

As my friend and I were walking and she related some stories to me about the way her kids did (and still do) practically the same thing that Nicholas did the night before I stopped dead in my tracks. I realized instantly that the inane conversation Nicholas and I had the night before had nothing to do with his hurt feelings and everything to do with his desire to keep my attention for as long as possible and avoid going to sleep. It worked. He had my attention and his bedtime was pushed back by at least 30 minutes. Chalk one up for Nicholas.

I felt a lot better after my conversation with my walking friend because I realized that I'm not a bad parent, I just have a clever kid. Now that I am aware that this happens to other people in other families with strikingly similar stories I can feel confident playing the game instead of sitting on the sidelines frantically reading the player's manual.

For example, every night before the boys go to bed they ask me what we are doing the next day or as Christopher puts it "when the sun comes up." I told them the other night that we were taking Grandma Murray to Greenfield Village for the day. It's one of our favorite places and the boys always have a great time.

Nicholas tried earnestly to delay his bedtime that night by insisting that I read what he wrote in his notebook. I let him come downstairs to show me and saw that he wrote "I do not fel lik going to Grenfeld Vilg." Hmmmmnnnn. Don't feel like going to your favorite place? That's weird. I asked him why he didn't want to go and he declared, "I hate Greenfield Village! It's boring." I asked him why it's boring and he said there is nothing fun to do there (which is utter nonsense). I sensed that he was wanting desperately to avoid his bedtime by announcing that the plans I made for the next day were clearly unacceptable to him. So, I told him calmly and simply that since his dad was working from home the next day he could stay home and I wouldn't make him go to the nothing-to-do-boring-dull place. Problem solved.

Only Nicholas did not get the reaction he expected from me and was perplexed. I told him he needed to get back upstairs into bed because it was past his bedtime. He said again that he didn't like Greenfield Village and I said again, simply, you don't have to go to Greenfield Village but you do have to go to bed. My conversation about Greenfield Village was over. He turned to me, stomped his foot and yelled emphatically, "Fine! I'll go to Greenfield Village." His tune changed completely when he realized that I wasn't falling for his shenanigans and that his option to stay home with his working dad wasn't quite as appealing as going out to have fun for the day. Chalk one up for mom.

I can't believe I was hoodwinked before by a 6-year-old, but kids instinctively know how to push buttons. Nicholas especially can zone in with amazing precision on what makes me crazy. Talk like "I'm no good" or "you hate me" makes me nutty because it's simply untrue not to mention unfair. But, I am learning to read his cues a whole heck-of-a-lot better and like the old saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me."

Game on, little man. Game on.

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