Last night, Ian reached for a can of soda on our night table.
He has good hand-eye coordination, but very often any dexterity he possesses is overruled by his enthusiasm. As a result, ‘reaching’ has a 50/50 chance of turning into pushing, throwing, knocking over, or launching. It can be quite dangerous to ask Ian to hand you something.
In this case, reaching for the can of soda rapidly degraded into pushing the can of soda, after which gravity took over and tossed the can into Kelly’s lap – but not before entropy had its say, and spilled Diet Cherry Coke all over the table, sofa, and carpet.
1) Ian is not allowed to touch Mommy’s soda.
2) Ian is not allowed to touch anything on the table.
3) Ian is very much aware of 1 and 2.
So we gave him a time-out. This was his first, and I don’t know that it did any good – but the experience was fascinating.
I sat him in a corner and said, ‘Stay there.’ He tried to stand. I pushed him down and said, ‘No, you have to sit there.’ He tilted his head and frowned. He tried to stand. Again, I pushed him down and said, ‘No! You know you’re not supposed to touch the table. You have to sit here until we say you can get up.’
Keep in mind, Ian had been crying in varying degrees ever since the can fell. He knows when we’re upset with him, and he doesn’t like it. He’s even started giving me hugs when he realizes that he’s hurt me.
After the third or fourth time I pushed him down, he really started bawling. His crying rarely affects me anymore, because unless he’s badly hurt or throwing a tantrum, it’s all a show. This was no different – and he stayed put.
But then he reached his hand toward me, as if he were trapped and needed my help to escape. Ouch.
I stood my ground and shook my head. I even turned my back and went back to the couch. Ian went through his wide array of pity tactics – crying, pouting, sitting dejectedly, playing the hapless victim. He’s like Felix the Cat or Rich Little – but with facial expressions.
Finally we told Ian that he could stand. He didn’t move. I held out my arms, ‘It’s okay. You can get up now.’ He tried to stand, but it was as if someone had grabbed him from behind and pulled him back down. He cried.
‘Come on, baby. Come over here.’ He stood and tried to move, but his feet wouldn’t listen. They stayed firmly planted, and he fell foward. He really was trapped. On his hands and knees, Ian looked pleadingly at us – ‘Why can’t I move?’
He stood again, and was finally able to move. He lifted his legs in short, jerky steps, as if he were learning to walk again. He made his way to the couch, and we hugged him, and kissed him, and sat him next to us.
I have absolutely no idea what I’ve learned from this. As I said, I don’t know if the time-out did any good. I don’t know that he’s mature enough to connect the punishment with the crime. I’m certain he wasn’t thinking about what he’d done.
But I now know that I have a powerful influence on my son – more powerful than I’d realized. Fatherhood is intimidating.