Defensive cheer

We had one of those evenings.

It started out well: I was washing dishes, and Amy and Mark were playing this cute cooperative Richard Scarry board game. (Not all cooperative / “everyone wins” games are inane.) Mark gave Amy two or three advance notifications that at 7:15 it would be time to clean up and get ready for bed. When the time came, he even waited for a good stopping point in the game.

But as soon as that final announcement was made, Amy screamed and ran away. She was disrespectful enough to merit a timeout. Then she started in on the spitting. Then she peed in the timeout seat.

Even with the extra fifteen minutes (usually we start at 7:30), all the delaying and then the pee cleanup meant there was no time for a bedtime story. She was warned of such a consequence, but the warning didn’t help her change direction.

Slowly, she returned to cooperation, and did clean up the rest of her toys. She even started being cheerful.

Sometimes that kind of cheerfulness aggravates me more than defiance does. It tempts me to think she’s not taking us seriously, not understanding our disciplinary efforts, not caring about her disobedience and disrespect, etc. Especially when there’s little “last word” battles, like me telling her to clean up X and she says she’s going to clean up Y instead. Or when she obviously has to go to the potty but stops to talk to us, or wants to go get a chair so she can reach the sponge to help clean up the accident, and so on, instead of just going straight to the potty and doing the other stuff afterward. She rarely goes straight to anything, actually.

I try to remember what a friend suggested once — that the cheerfulness can be a mask, a hiding place, a defensive activity, in a child as much as in an adult.

I’m sure neither extreme was completely conscious for Amy — it’s not like a three-year-old thinks on such a level.

Point being — I should neither excuse her disobedience and such as if all misbehavior were simply the result of not feeling loved well enough. Nor should I judge too harshly, as if all misbehavior were spiteful, hateful, premeditated attacks on us personally. I should endeavor to love her well, and to be willing to see how I can do better and when I need to apologize. I should also endeavor to help her love righteousness, understand consequences, be sensitive (to herself and to others), and make wise behavioral choices.

In other news… I continue to notice that Amy is rather easily overwhelmed by her peers. Kids were pushing past or even over her at the Bremen Bounce yesterday, or she’d get upset because she’d fall down when kids were bouncing around her. Or at a party or playdate she gets undone if another kid comes along and starts playing with, say, the kitchen set while she’s there. I want the best balance here — to be her strong mama and help her, but not to merely swoop in and rescue her either. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to intervene and when not to. Likewise with playing with her alone at home — when to allow her to control the play, and when to throw in my contrary choices to give her safe practice with typical play disagreements.


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