Just kidding...no, it's not. When you're three and a half, life's a breeze. When you're three and a half and the youngest of three children, life is a DOUBLE-breeze. Everybody does everything for you. All you have to do is point and whoever's around plays real life search-and-find, rummaging through the cupboard shelves, trying to locate the delicious snack item that you have your mind set on. Goldfish? No. Cheese-Its? Double-no. Granola bar? FOOT-STOMPING NO! All of this while you don't use your words. Because you don't have to use your words. Because you're three-and-a-half and the youngest of three children and somehow, sometime, people decided they just don't care anymore about teaching you to be a civilized human being.
My little Buckaroo, the time has come for to use your words.
This is a picture of my darling, wonderful, adorable almost-four-year-old, Foster:
I know, right? Cutie-patootie. Unfortunately, right now, he's more just a patootie. And that's me putting it nicely.
The phrase "terrible twos" is very deceptive. The twos have troubling moments, to be sure, but that year is a cakewalk compared to the threes. The twos are "terrible-lite." If you have a two-year-old and you're thinking, "Surely she doesn't know what she's talking about, because the twos have been the pits in my house," I advise you now to sit down. Pour yourself a cold one. And prepare yourself for the truth bomb that's about to be dropped on you. Ready? The threes are worse. Everyone who has a child who's three or older is nodding their heads right now, silently pitying you because they know the storm that's headed your way. There's no escaping the tortuous threes. I'm sorry.
When your little cherub turns three, you too might be dealing with scenarios like what I'm about to describe. Don't look away; I know you'll want to, but don't do it. Consider it my gift to you, some preparation for what's to come (because it doesn't just happen to me, right? RIGHT???).
A note from his preschool teacher: "Jordan, Foster had a very hard day today. He hit Ana in the face and he keeps following boys into the bathroom, waiting for them to pull down their pants to pee, and then pinching their butts. He was on red* today [obviously]."
A note from his preschool teacher: "Jordan, Foster did not have a good day at all. It started well, but then he told me that he was going to 'kick me in the face,' and things went downhill after that. He was on red* today [again, obviously]."
A phone call from his preschool teacher: "Jordan? It's Shannon. Listen, Foster just bit Connor because he wanted the toy Connor was playing with. Normally he would get sent home for this, but I'm pretty sure he actually WANTS to come home, so instead I'm going to make him stay at school. Needless to say, he's gonna be on red* today."
*every day the kids' behavior is reflected by a green/yellow/red chart...
These are just a small sampling of his behavior as of late. It happens at home, too, but the events at school are more embarrassing. I know it sounds like he's undisciplined and probably gets away with murder, but, all joking aside, we are on that kid like white on rice. We are consistent. We are loving. We teach him the truths of God's Word and we don't put up with hitting or biting or pinching or telling people they are going to get a swift kick in the face.
And still he perseveres. I will give it to him, he sticks to his guns! I am praying it serves him and the world well one day, because right now it's just resulting in consequence upon consequence. Maybe he'll become a lawyer and support me in my old age...
His problem is that, especially because he's the baby, he's been under the impression that he doesn't have to use his words. Someone takes his crayon? He hits them. Someone has a toy he wants? He bites them to get it. Someone goes pee? He pinches them. (Okay, I can't explain that one away...it's just weird.)
In the Watts house, we get creative with discipline. I learned from the master herself, my mother. My hubby is also creative, and sometimes it's very hard not to laugh while we throw down the fiery wrath of consequences upon our kids.
In order to explain, let me give you an example of the way we discipline in relation to the three scenarios listed about.
SCENARIO 1 - FOSTER HIT A GIRL (YES, A GIRL) AND PINCHED BOYS' BUTTS
In this case, Foster earned himself the privilege of wearing wool mittens for an entire day. In the 80-degree temperatures. Because, simply, if he can't use his hands for kindness, then he will wear gloves on his hands to remind him that his choices have consequences, and that he should use his words if someone takes his crayon. He was given the "opportunity" to wear these gloves to preschool and was told he could not take them off unless he was eating or going potty. His hands got sweaty. He had trouble holding his crayons. He was clumsy with toys.
It was perfect.
SCENARIO 2 - FOSTER SASSED HIS TEACHER ("I'M GONNA KICK YOUR FACE")
Wow, even typing that description is horrifying. I promise you, he's not "that kid." You know, the one society needs to fear. I have no doubt he's going to be something great, because God sure did give him guts! He's not afraid of much, including saying things for the sheer shock value. In our home, we don't call names and we SURE don't threaten bodily harm to adults (or anyone, for that matter). We have a little bottle of what we affectionately refer to as "sassy sauce" for situations such as this.
He received a healthy dose. I think I can still smell vinegar on his breath, too.
SCENARIO 3 - FOSTER BIT CONNOR (SORRY, CONNOR'S MOM!)
I'm sure you guys understand how it feels to have your kid bite the new kid in class. Anyone? No one? Here's how it feels in one word: horrifying. It feels horrifying. Biting is a big deal, and my other kids didn't really deal with habitual biting. They did it once or twice and that was that. Not Foster. Like I said, he sticks with it. We tried (almost) everything, and even then I got that dreaded phone call from school. Count Dracula strikes again! I was steaming mad, I won't lie. After weeks of dealing with his stupid choices and bad behavior, I was tired. of. it. With my mom's help and great advice, I decided to take extreme measures. Thank goodness we have a random supply of surgical masks for situations such as this (or Ebola, of course).
How do you communicate to an almost-four-year-old child that he has to learn to use his words to solve problems, not his body? How do you teach him that words count, even things said as a joke and simply for shock value? Yes, I know, he's not even four. But he's smart and he knows better.
How do I teach him to use his words when I misuse my own words, and often?
It starts with me. And with you, moms and dads. It starts with us, unfortunately. Before we can throw wisdom and advice out to our kids, before we can come down on them for not handling conflict well and with love and gentleness, we have to practice it ourselves. We have to learn to use our words in a healthy way.
Proverbs is full of wisdom on the subject of using our words for good:
"The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." - Prov. 12:18
"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body." - Prov. 16:24
"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent." - Prov. 10:19
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." - Prov. 18:21
And of course, one of my favorite Psalms:
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." - Psalms 19:14
Sometimes I need a dose of sassy sauce. And I don't pinch or punch or bite anymore, but my words often do just as much damage. Maybe even more. We have to lead this way for our kids, and obviously I need to do a better job!
I pray that the words of my mouth, and yours, will be acceptable in the sight of the Lord, and that my words are a sweet and healing balm for all who hear them.
I also pray that Foster quits acting like a little turd. Well, crap, there go my words again...