Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Power of Three
My daughter was standing up in the bathtub ignoring my demands for her to "sit down like a big girl!" It was a game of up and down as I held onto her slippery hands, readjusting my body weight to prevent her from falling face first into the side of the tub. She kept laughing as my eyes widened in anger. By the tenth time I grew desperate and did what I felt was the "mom thing" to do. I started counting to three. She looked at me with curious eyes, knowing this progression of numbers wasn't the usual "lets count together" game. After "one" I told her to sit down. She looked at me. My voice quivered as I got to two. This was the part where she should recognize I mean business. She remained standing. The both of us wondering what would happen after three. This thoughtful pause must have worked because she sat back down and started playing with the bubbles. As I stood there, shocked and relieved, I quickly realized the power of this empty threat.
Since the bathtub incident I've used the almighty counting strategy in various situations. When she wants to lay down in the hallway, won't put back rocks in the garden, or refuses to sit down while standing on the chair. Every time she complies by the time I get to three. Some close calls have only resulted in me getting up off my chair or walking over to her, developing a plan in my head while I move. Each time I'm amazed that my lack of action always results in her having some kind of reaction.
On Father's Day she was talking on the phone with my grandmother. After a few minutes of babbling I asked her hand the phone to my husband.
"Give the phone back to Daddy please," I said in an even tone.
"No," she said in her "I'm testing you" voice, inching away from me.
"On the count of three you need to give Daddy the phone back," My tone still even.
"No!" The counting begins.
"NO!!" Slight crying ensues. I remain seated on the couch.
"AHHHHHH!!" A loud scream as she jumps in place. The whole room stops to see what will happen next.
"NO!!!" She screams, falls to the floor, throws the phone and cries in the fetal position. I go over and pick up the phone.
My kid is pretty smart. She knows her numbers, the entire alphabet, and forms fragmented sentences. But this. This is the one thing she hasn't figured out. That she has developed fear from me insinuating a punishment. A punishment she has never experienced. Does she trust me so completely that she is certain I'll follow through? In demonstrating behavior for the past 22 months of action and result, why is this the only situation she doesn't fully grasp?
Growing up my mother would use her "mom voice" when I was in trouble and by asking me a second time I was always falling into step. It was like a switch went off in my head with the thought of "you'd better do what she is asking." But now I know the secret. That she likely never had a clue of what would happen at the end of three. And like me, was thankful the anticipation worked just as well at getting her way.