Wish Someone Had Told Me
The Lip Starts Now The Princess, Queen of the Comebacks
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the princess was told to stop coloring and go wash her hands for lunch. Being the old school dad I am, my expectation is always for her to pop up immediately and — just after saying “Yes, Daddy” — hustle to do what she’s told.
But it seems the older she gets, the further we get from that vision. Not only did she refuse to even look up at me, but she had something to
say — in the most dainty voice she could muster.
“But I wish I could keep coloring.”
Drawing from my well of mercy, I patiently instruct her once more to clean up the coloring utensils and wash her hands for lunch. Does she jump up and heed the commands of her father? No.
“But I was just trying to color,” she whines, her lips now poked out and those eyes pushed to their maximum circumference.
Keep in mind, the entire time she’s still coloring. The nerve of this preschooler. Finally, I say her name with a little more bass in my voice, conveying the message that she doesn’t have an option. Then I start counting down from three. Of course, she waits until one before finally putting the marker down and doing what she was told. But she didn’t go down quietly. She pulled out the final stop, one last Hail Mary.
Her face gets more pouty. Her voice goes from pouty to dejected, like her dreams were shattered.
“I guess I just won’t get to color ever again.”
Wow. My princess, who just turned 5, has already mastered the art of talking back. I wish someone had told me the lip would start so soon. I’ve always expected a teenage girl to be a handful. These days, it’s not uncommon to get told off by 9-year-old. But it blows my mind that this girl hasn’t even started kindergarten yet, and she’s already wiggling her way out of instructions and vying for the last word.
As it turns out, this is natural and common behavior. Like most preschoolers, my princess is starting to feel herself a little bit. She’s grasping the language and now knows how to communicate her feelings. She’s learning what she can get away with and the meaning of tone. She’s also taking control of her own world, becoming an individual. And it doesn’t help that the first few years of her life she has only experienced getting her needs and wants met. An autonomous disposition is expected.
But that doesn’t mean it feels any better for the parent. Most times, I can’t help but think she must have forgotten whom she’s talking to.
No, she’s not yet responding with sarcastic retorts. She doesn’t yet know how to roll her eyes or yell out her rebuttal. Her responses are in many ways clever and cute. But the calculated measure of them concerns me. She’s already manufacturing comebacks to get her desired result.
Reject her request for a piece of candy or a cookie, and she responds with complaints about being hungry. Tell her its time to clean up her mess, suddenly she’s just soooooo sleepy. Catch her doing something she’s not supposed to do, then the scratch on her finger from last week is now a debilitating injury.
This girl is smart. And, admittedly, sometimes it drives me crazy.
One morning, I went all out making her breakfast. Blueberry pancakes with banana slices and homemade berry sauce formed into a smiley face. A side of my special cinnamon apples. A glass of milk. All stuff she usually loves. But this morning, she was busy playing and didn’t want to stop to eat breakfast. Finally, I got her to the table. She sat pouting before this plate, gorgeous enough to nominate me for Father of the Year. Since she refused to eat, I told her why she had to — breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Her retort?
“But I don’t like this.”
Mommy had to intervene. My bruised heart could take no more.
When we get home, the princess’ routine is to take off her clothes in her room and put on her ’round-the-house gear (gives us a chance to get settled). But of course, she wants to play. She comes up with every excuse to come out of her room — to ask her how to take off her shoes, to tell us her sock is off, to potty.
Once, my wife — who was on to her game — told her in no uncertain terms to not come out the room until she had changed her clothes. Do you know this little girl mumbled under her breath all the way down the hall to her room?
Call me a throw back, but what happened to the days when children were cuter versions of pets?
The difficult part is how to curb this often inevitable behavior. Since I’m not going to threaten to knock her into the middle of next week, as I was for giving too much lip, I’ve learned patience, perspective and lots of humility are vital.
An article on www.Education.com called “When Preschoolers Talk Back” gives a list of things parents can do when their little one is popping off at the mouth. Nip it in the bud early by preventing situations that lead to “talking back” (such as when kids are hungry or tired). Be specific in your correction, especially when you’re conveying to your child how he or she is being disrespectful. Don’t give them what they want when they talk back, including your attention — keep calm, be patient and don’t cave. Set consequences for intolerable behavior. Give a lot of attention and praise to positive and polite responses. Make sure you model the behavior you want from your child and do your best to keep him or her away from bad influences.
What you can’t do is take the backtalk as an attack on your manhood or womanhood. Or get into a battle of wills with a toddler.
“Do you want to win the ‘battle’ or change the behavior?” Cynthia Whitham, associate director of the Parent Training Program at the University of California at Los Angeles, asked in a www.Parents.com article. “This isn’t about winning. You just want to stop the behavior.”