When the kids were finished eating dinner, they had to do what I ask them to do every night. They had to say thank you for dinner. Now, I’m not a manners freak (okay, I kind of am…), but I do believe that kids can be taught manners just as easily as they can be taught other things, like how to use a spoon or where their nose is. We start out pretty basic with saying “please” and “thank you” from the time they can talk. As Bean has gotten older, we’ve added more etiquette to his expectations. Right now, we’re teaching him how to shake hands and introduce himself. It’s pretty much the cutest thing ever to see him walk up to someone, hold out his hand and say, “Hi, my name is Michael.”
With Gracie right now, saying “please” and “thank you” is second nature. She says it pretty routinely. But tonight, for whatever reason, she put her foot down.
Bean finished eating, said, “Thanks for dinner, Mom,” and scooted down to go play.
I turned to Gracie who was trying to figure out how to get out of her little booster seat safety belt. “Gracie, can you say thank you?” I asked absentmindedly while I cleaned off the dinner table. But there was no response from Gracie. Which was strange because she always says thank you after dinner. So, I turned back to her and said, “Gracie? Say thank you.”
She just sat there giving me this blank stare.
“Gracie,” I said, a little more firmly and getting down to her eye level. “You need to say thank you and then you can get down.”
“Gracie, you can’t get down until you say thank you. Can you tell Mommy thank you?”
This went on for five minutes while I tried to figure out what the heck was going on. She said thank you all the time. What was happening here?
And then it hit me – Gracie is 20 months old. Which is pretty darn close to two-years-old.
Cue the terrible twos.
Cue the horror movie scream.
Was Gracie trying to out stubborn me????? ME????? Did she know who I WAS?????? I AM THE STUBBORN QUEEN, PIPSQUEAK! PAY HOMAGE TO THE MASTER!
After five minutes of this stand off, I left her strapped into her seat at the kitchen table and I walked into the dining room where I could see her, but she couldn’t see me. That royally pissed her off. She started screaming and crying and pitching a pretty remarkable temper tantrum. I let this go on for about five minutes and then I went back in there.
“Gracie,” I said very calmly. “Calm down.” And I waited until she had stopped crying (which takes approximately 3 seconds for Gracie – it’s like a switch she can flip), then I said, “Gracie, can you say thank you?”
Actually, it wasn’t really a blank stare. It was a stare that said, “You must be kidding.”
So, I told her I was going back into the living room with Bean and that I’d be back in three minutes for her to try again. She started wailing again. I left. Came back to try three minutes later. Same stare.
This went on for about 20 minutes. I kept calling my mom and making sure I wasn’t missing something. “Surely, she understands me, right???? I mean, I ask her to say thank you all the time and she does it right away.”
“Of course she understands!” my mom laughed. “This is a two year old stare down. Just hold your ground, don’t get mad and don’t give in.”
“This seems kind of silly to be causing such a fuss over two little words,” I said.
“It’s not about the words,” Mom reminded me. “It’s about Gracie following the rules and doing as she is asked. Be firm because she is learning right now what gets her what she wants and what doesn’t. If you give in, she learns that she can outlast you by throwing a temper tantrum.”
Aren’t mom’s so smart?
So, I hunkered down. But ten more minutes went by and Gracie was really ramping up the crying. We couldn’t hear anything over her. Finally, I went back in the kitchen for my regular check in and told her that she was going to have to go sit in time out if she didn’t stop crying and say thank you. Then, she looked right at me and said clear as a bell, “NO!”
Seriously, I almost laughed. It was such awesome stubbornness! I didn’t know whether to put her in time out or hug her. But I figured the hugging thing would miss the whole point, so off to time out she went. She has a time out chair she has to sit in, and so she went into that chair (which is up in her room and would give our ears some peace and hopefully help her calm down). She screamed and screamed and yelled and yelled, but every three to five minutes when I went in there to ask her to say thank you again, she would instantly stop crying and stare me down with that “piss off, Mom” stare.
In the middle of all of this, Chris came home from work. Gracie heard him and she started calling out, “Daddy! Daddy!” But Chris and I agreed that this was between me and Gracie and that she had to work out her issue with me before she could turn to the other parent. Still though, Gracie would not say thank you. Finally, it was just about bedtime. I went into her room and said, “Gracie, if you can’t say thank you, you’re going to have to go night night.”
She sat there for a minute, put her little pointer finger to her lips like she was thinking about her options, and then finally looked me right in the eye and said very, very quietly, “Thank you.”
Then, we threw a party. Daddy came in, Bean came in, I came in! We all cheered and told Gracie what a good girl she was for saying thank you! We all played for about 15 more minutes before it was finally bedtime.
If that night was an indication about how headstrong Gracie is, then I’m shaking in my boots about the terrible two’s with her. She’s a stubborn little thing! With Bean, we went through this same thing, but we never had to hold out for that long. All total, it took Gracie 46 minutes to say thank you. It is really hard to hold out for that long as a parent. It seemed so silly to be causing such a fuss about such a small thing. But my mom was absolutely right. Gracie was choosing to disobey and whether that’s disobeying about holding my hand when we cross the street, or cleaning up her toys when asked, or saying thank you after a meal, she’s at that age where behavioral patterns are being set. And one that she’s going to have to learn is to do what she’s asked when she’s asked.
Gracie is all about testing limits and consequences right now. You have to tell her not to do something 10,000 times before she’ll actually stop, and that’s another version of what happened tonight. She’s watching us to see if the rules and consequences are the same every time she does something, or if her action one time gets a different response than it did the time before that. While I hate seeing her getting so upset for such a long time over something so silly, I know that down the road, it is better for Gracie to know where the firm lines are in our house. Kids love boundaries, but until they learn them, they are going to test them. Gracie tested them at dinner that night, and now she knows that the only way she will get what she wants is by doing what she is asked. I’m sure she’ll test that boundary a hundred more times over the next year… or the next 17 years… But every time Chris’s and my reaction will be the same. And she’s starting to learn that right now.
On one hand, I keep thinking, “Well, this is going to be AWFUL!” But on the other hand, I keep thinking, “I can’t believe how much she is growing up!” Because as frustrating as this is, it’s all a normal and healthy part of growing. One minute we’re breaking the binky habit and the next we’re having two-year-old stand offs! Where does the time go??????