Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Thoughts on behaviour

I love our son Oliver, I really do.

But sometimes I just can’t stand him.

He’s nearly three now and we’re trying every day to impress upon him the importance of behaving nicely, asking for things politely and most of all, not being violent. These lessons we are attempting to teach him are coinciding with a phase he’s going through in which he can be extremely wilful, stubborn and insistent on doing things his way.

Or he can be compliant, polite, considerate and gentle. It all depends on his mood, what he’s paying attention to, how much sleep he’s had, the time of day, the phases of the moon, the tides … who knows?

Oliver likes things to be done just so, except when he doesn’t seem to care. His current mantra is ‘”NO, I’LL DO IT!”, usually intoned when one of us makes the mistake of closing the door, turning the light on or off, taking his slippers off, etc., without giving him the option to do so first. It’s one thing for him to assert some independence, but we often ask him to do something and he will either refuse or ignore the request, then loudly take offence when we start doing it for him. He will even want to start all over again, no matter how impractical.

His only expression of remorse or concern for our feelings is an occasional “Are you happy?” or “Are you my friend?”, and that’s only because he’s heard us make those inquiries of him at other times.

Perhaps we’re expecting a self-awareness and an ability to analyze his own behaviour that he just doesn’t have. That may be why bribing him from time to time, or taking away certain privileges, doesn’t seem to have any long-term effect. We can’t reason with him if he’s seeing his own behaviour as a way of eliciting a response.

He sometimes says “I wanna behave nicely” when we’ve made it apparent that he’s misbehaving, but he can’t resist pushing our buttons by doing things we’ve told him not to do. Perhaps the answer is not to be stern with him but to maintain a neutral response, which I sometimes find difficult to do, not because I feel like I’m about to lose my temper but because I find it hard to keep a straight face.