Joshua has learned to negotiate. It’s normal for kids to push their boundaries, to test them, to see how far they can go without invoking the wrath of the Time-Out Gods (read: Mom and Dad), and to find out how much Mom and Dad will give if simply asked. This is all basic, beginner, entry-level negotiating, the equivalent of trying to get your money back when you know darn well that the shoes you’re returning have a giant scuff on them. But Joshua has already advanced past this to the trade deal with China level.
Joshua was saving his allowance to buy some stickers he wanted from the craft store. He had a three-week slog at a dollar per week ahead of him, but I offered him the opportunity to earn two of those dollars by helping me to clean the master bedroom (the floor was barely visible beneath the heaps of clean, but unsorted and unfolded clothes) and our entertainment/boom-boom room (floor again barely visible beneath the diverse assortment of Joshua’s letters and toys). That would have gotten him two-thirds of the way to new stickers, meaning he’d only have to wait a week. First he offered that those rooms should be two dollars each. I obviously declined. His next offer was to help clean our living room or dining room for another dollar. Neither of these rooms needed a dollar’s worth of cleaning, so I again declined. His final offer was to help clean them both together for a dollar. I admired his bargaining and perseverance and took the offer, looking forward to a much cleaner house.*
He got some M&M candies from his grandma. Jen and I allowed him to have five after either dinner or lunch each day. He first tried to get us to agree to 10. No dice. Then, trying to catch us off-guard, he tried for five after dinner AND after lunch. We’re slow, but we’re not quite as slow as our four-year old was hoping we were.
We let Joshua accumulate no more than five time-outs in the course of a day before sending him straight to bed. On numerous occasions, as his time-out count crept close to that magic number 5, he has suggested that we extend the limit to six because, “I’m getting bigger.”
We read one book to him before bedtime. He posited that two shorter books would be an OK substitute for one regular book.
He gets no more than two cups of juice each day. He drank both very early on one particular day, then wanted another later. I reminded him of the two/day limit, and he countered that he was very hot** and that juice would cool him down better than milk.
Now, we encourage him to ask questions, and to try to think things through before acting or speaking, anathema to the pre-school crowd. But I believe we’ve created an opportunistic beast. His is not the innocent exploration of boundaries and limits common to four-year olds. No, no. He’s systematically testing both our weaknesses and our resolve***, his sing-song voice merely the scout team ahead of the van of his army of merciless, berserker hounding and manically repeated queries. The ease and rapidity with which he swings from precociously asking about a thing to full-blown psychological warfare is breathtaking. As Jen and I tell each other with growing frequency, we’re totally screwed.
*Joshua suckered me in the end because, as I should have guessed, he sucks at cleaning.
**It was about 55 degrees F outside.
***Heaven help us when he discovers that the former and the latter are one and the same.