You're Not The Boss of Me

Things have mostly been going swimmingly on the parenting front lately, except for one recent development: A marked propensity for telling us what to do—and refusing to do what we ask or tell him to do.

That is, our kid is finally going through the "NO" phase.

This seems like an offshoot of the tongue-sticking-out behavior he adopted during the worst of his defiant stage. And you might ask: How is the "NO" phase different from the horrible defiant stage we went through a couple months ago? Well, that was more teenager-like; it involved lots of arm-crossing, stamping, tongue-sticking, and la-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you-ing. This is a slightly gentler method of boundary-testing, involving me or Al being interrupted by a "no" in the middle of a verbal mandate.

For example, while helping him in the bathroom tonight, I started, "it's almost bathtime, so...", at which point he interrupted me and said, "No." Me: "What?!" Him: "It's still light out. I'm not going to take a bath now." At this point I brought to his attention that THIS, this was the thing he'd been put in the timeout chair for several times today. It was not his position to countermand orders from me or Daddy. Oh, and what I'd started to say was "it's almost bathtime, so I want you to finish up watching your DVD and then head upstairs," but now I think we'll skip the end of the DVD and go straight to the tub.

Meanwhile, while the Beaner isn't into taking orders, he's lately resumed his former practice of giving them. For example, I was trying to get something done at my desk today, and the Beaner kept interrupting to ask questions. Finally he asked, "what are you doing?" I replied, "something that should only take me 10 minutes if nobody talks to me while I'm doing it." The Beaner then went to the top of the stairs and shouted, "Daddy! You can't talk to Mommy for 10 minutes."

This was yet another opportunity to bring up the phrase Al taught him last weekend, but that he has yet to fully grok: Mind Your Own Business (or as my mom used to tell me when I was a kid, MYOB). We've been trying to impress upon him for even longer (for the past year or more, in fact) a related concept: That whatever else is happening around you, whatever someone else is or isn't doing, we expect you to act as you know you should, as you know is right. We expect you to set the example of good behavior, not behave badly because someone else is, too.

Anyway, in addition to the relayed orders, he's also trying his hand at ordering us around on his own. He's smart enough that I'm fairly certain he knows the difference among "Get that for me," "Get that for me, please", and "Can you please get that for me?", not least because if we prompt him to make his request more nicely, he'll try the second and then the third options in that order.

I think this is why I'm less worried about or paralyzed by this bout of defiance than the last: This one is reasonable, logical, considered. He's trying out different methods of communication and seeing what happens (can I order Mommy and Daddy to do things the way they order me sometimes? is tacking on 'please' sufficient to make an order seem like a request? what's the difference between asking and ordering, anyway?). He's coming up with reasonable rejoinders to our decrees (one Al reminded me of recently: One night he and the Beaner got ice cream and brought it home to eat, but it was so hot that by the time they got home, they had soup, not ice cream. A few nights later, after a cold snap, the Beaner asked for ice cream again. "No, it's too cold for ice cream," said Al. "But then it won't melt on the way home!" replied the Beaner).

Posted by Lori in parenthood at 9:05 PM on July 12, 2008