By Heather Cocks, REDBOOK
During a recent sojourn to Disneyland, we were strapping our two-year old twin boys into their stroller when Goofy strolled past, trailed by a long line of excited boys and girls (and exhausted parents). He stopped and clumsily gestured for a line to form, confusing the little girl of about ten standing nearest to him. So she walked back to her father, held out her open notebook, and said, "I want to get his signature." His response? "YOU BLEW IT," he shouted. "You've been blabbing about this all day, and you were standing right next to him and you COMPLETELY BLEW IT. You SCREWED IT ALL UP and now we have to WAIT. Nice work." It was all I could do not squeeze her trembling shoulders and whisper a comforting lie, like, "It's okay, honey, his fly was open the whole time." I felt for her, getting yelled at by her father in a public place, over something as innocuous as her inability to understand the sign language of a man-sized cartoon dog. It felt like, in expressing his irritation, the dad crossed a line.
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Still, as a parent of rambunctious boys, we often wonder where the line is exactly when you need to scold your child in public. We've all seen kids act out, and watched parents look either hapless or helpless or like they just don't care, or worse, find it adorable. We've also all seen parents get red-faced with anger, yelling at their spawn. Nobody wants to be those people; we want to get it right, or at least, make it clear that we're trying our best. So how creative can you get, how loud do you get, how frustrated do you allow yourself to feel when a public "no" isn't good enough?
Our boys are young enough that, right now, the main problems are really just getting them not to do things that will kill them. Ergo, often, we need to make clear that we don't tolerate That Kind Of Behavior. They shouldn't run off without us. They really shouldn't follow their fascination with cars straight into the street. They shouldn't throw food-nor utensils, nor cups, nor salt shakers, and please God not that delicious untouched hand-dipped corn dog-onto the ground, or people's heads. We try to be firm. We try to stay calm. We use every word we can think of that is a synonym for, "Stop that right now or I swear to God I will put Buzz Lightyear in the microwave." They couldn't care less. Our admonishments are tiny amusements to them. With each word that's blithely ignored, our need to assert our disciplinary superiority over them grows. We're thisclose to inventing a new word that is a harbinger of doom and danger, like, I don't know, Snooki, or maybe a satisfying Russian nyet.
One thing we insist on trying to do is elucidate the difference between how they're acting and how they are. They're not bad; they're behaving badly. They're not a Terrible Two; they're simply being like one. They are not screwups who blew it; they are just kids who are, and will be for a long time, learning. Just as we are, as parents. So I'm fairly confident that in eight or so years I won't be telling my boys they've ruined our lives just by failing to understand that when a dog flaps his gloved hands, it means, "Please form an orderly line just north of my suspenders." But in eight minutes, I might be at the grocery store wailing, "Nyet," at one of the twins as he tries to eat through a package of raisins. And if you're there, I hope you'll understand.
What are your tricks for getting your child to listen-both in public and at home?
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