How do your children show their displeasure? Perhaps they run off and hide, fall to the ground kicking and screaming, stomp their feet or yell at you. If your children are anything like our boys they have done all of these things, sometimes in a single tantrum. Noah, who is five, also employs what I have come to call the passive protest. While the aforementioned actions can be extremely embarrassing in public and contribute to hearing loss, it has been my experience that the passive protest is by far the most exasperating of all the ways children can show their displeasure.
Once a protest has begun Noah will stand rooted to the spot where he became annoyed. It does not matter if that is in the middle of a room, or the middle of the sidewalk, he simply refuses to move. He will stand there with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. If I try to ask what is wrong he will scrunch his face up even more, pull his shoulders up to his ears, stare straight into my eyes, and say nothing. If I try to move him he will go limp and crumple to the ground.
For the longest time I would use threats of the loss of toys or playing with friends and when these failed I would just scoop him up and carry him out to the car and put him in his seat. Then I’d go back for whatever else I needed, his coat, his shoes, or his little brother Luke. Saying I was going to take something away posed another problem in that I would often forget about it five minutes later. To Noah’s credit, though, he will often remind me of what I said. After a particularly long string of protests I got so fed up that I walked out of the room and literally hopped up and down and roared, looking very much like Yosemite Sam without the chaps and ten-gallon hat and thus learned that you can in fact get hopping mad. After this wonderful display of total loss of control, I decided that I’d better come up with a new approach. Now I meet silence with silence, save for the occasional warning, and if the situation calls for it, the removal of the current favorite toy, at that moment, for the day. The one thing that I don’t do is use the I’m going to leave you here threat, even on the days when I would really like to. Not, because I think it is cruel to say that to your child but because the one time I did say it, Luke broke down into a sobbing, fear-filled frenzy over the fact that we were going to leave his brother who, as he repeated many times, is part of the family. Having a sobbing child and a silent unmoving child is extremely counterproductive. Like all aspects of parenting how I deal with a situation, as well as how the kids deal with it, is always changing. Often our coping ability hinges on how much sleep either party has gotten and how many days in a row my wife has been working. For the most part though the meeting silence with silence seems to be working. I just continue to plod along, and when things get really bad tell myself that other parents must be going through this sort of thing as well.
As frustrating as these protests can be, I am secretly impressed with how strongly the boys hold to their positions. In the age of bullying, extreme peer pressure, and a divided society having the tenacity to stand up for what you believe is right or against what you believe is wrong is something that should be fostered. Figuring out how to do that without becoming a complete pushover is the real trick to all of this.
This essay was written for the Charlotte News’s Humbled Parent Column