The other day I was checking out at the grocery store and witnessed a mother, who at that particular moment in time, was the picture-perfect example of the kind of mother I hope I don’t grow up to be. Her child, a boy of about three or four, had a bag of gumballs in his hand when they got up to the checkout counter. After emptying her cart, she removed the candy from his hand and set the package aside.
In response, the little boy began to yell, cry, and hurl himself forward. It was a somewhat understandable reaction from a 3-year-old, who at that moment, must have felt that gumballs were the most delicious thing in the world and he was being unjustly deprived. What wasn’t at all understandable was the mom’s response. She immediately grabbed the gumballs back off the shelf and handed them back to her son. Unfortunately, for all of us within earshot, the child wasn’t the slightest bit appeased.
Watching the little boy’s behavior—and more importantly his mother’s response—made me start thinking about the challenges of raising Jacob that lie ahead. It also made me think twice about the little fits that he has been having over the last couple of weeks.
The small shows of, shall we say, “spirit” started innocently enough: He wanted to play with the package of napkins I had set down in our cart at the grocery store or hold the apple that I was in the middle of eating. Each time, he began by vocalizing his desire with a slight whine and a reach. When his motions went ignored, he began to grunt. Then kick and shake and, finally, yell.
Both times, I responded just like the mother in the grocery store. I handed him what he wanted. And, honestly, even thought it was a little cute that he had gotten so excited over napkins and an apple. But, while a baby whining for an apple at five months is kind of cute, a child screaming for gumballs at four years isn’t. And, I can’t help but think that if these seemingly insignificant first episodes go unchecked now, they may snowball (or gumball?) into bigger ones later.
While I won’t go so far as to call Jacob’s spirited gestures “temper tantrums,” I don’t think it’s too early to be careful about indulging his every whim because, let’s be honest, no one sets out to raise a brat. Everyone wants a well-behaved child, but not everyone is willing to deal with the consequences of saying “no,” when it’s inconvenient, say, when your child wants candy in the checkout line at the grocery store or when he wants the apple your eating and you’d rather have an empty stomach than ringing ears.
Though Jacob isn’t old enough to understand real discipline yet—I tried a firm “No” the other day, and all I got was a big belly laugh—I don’t think it’s too early for Tom and I to begin thinking about the disciplining direction that we’ll take once the time is right. Just don’t tell Jacob we’re already planning our tactics. He might throw a real temper tantrum, and we’re not ready for that just yet.