Food for Thought
Having observed the sometimes striking lack of correlation between parental efforts to guide their offspring, and the results thereof, I have always been amazed at parents who think of their children as blank slates, ready to be moulded by adult directives! I suspect most children come “pre-programmed” with certain tendencies, which can (and often should!) be modified by those responsible for their upbringing.
One of the clearest manifestations of that individual pre-programming can be seen in the single-minded determination that some children will exhibit in pursuing their objectives. What is even more entertaining is the wide range of strategies and styles that emerge as a result of these machinations!
A common focus of such incidents is the issue of food - for example, the preference for a certain kind of food, or a way to improve access to it. Friends of mine discovered this to their cost recently, over a small incident involving chocolate pudding...
There are three children in this family and their parents are quite strict about sugar consumption, so chocolate puddings tend to be few and far between! On this occasion, after each person had taken one helping, their father turned a deaf ear to further pleas, and put away the remaining chocolate pudding at the back of the refrigerator, well beyond the reach of small and sticky fingers.
A few hours later, the household was in an uproar because they could not find their youngest son, three-year-old Ashley. Frantic calling yielded no results. After an exhaustive search in the house and garden, Ashley was finally found in a corner of the living-room, hiding under the pool table (literally with his back against the wall) covered in chocolate pudding, which he had quietly been consuming while the search was going on!
Clearly undeterred by his parents' efforts to keep him sugar-free, Ashley had managed to push a chair in front of the fridge, and climb onto it in order to reach into the back and take out the chocolate pudding. Impressively, the three-year-old even remembered to return the chair to its original position (in order not to excite suspicion) before repairing to his refuge under the pool table to enjoy his plundered pudding in peace...!
His long-suffering parents, who were genuinely alarmed at his disappearance, are not new to the phenomenon of self-willed children. If Ashley's style (upon discovery, his family were greeted with an angelic, chocolate covered smile) is somewhat devious, his sister Gracie is far more confrontational in her approach.
At a recent family picnic, Gracie wanted to play on the trampoline. In her eagerness to do so, she repeatedly interrupted her mother in mid-conversation, demanding to be lifted up onto the trampoline which was well out of her reach. Irritated, her mother Jennifer said, "Stop interrupting me when I'm talking to someone else! You know that's rude. If you can't be patient, and ask nicely, I'm not going to help you. So say sorry to us and I'll help you after that!"
Which brings me to another trigger factor - for many children, being laughed at or treated with perceived disrespect can have unforeseen consequences! For Gracie, a six-year-old who takes herself quite seriously, her mother's public rebuke was no laughing matter. There was absolutely no way that she was going to apologise, no matter how badly she wanted to get on that trampoline!
For the next 15 minutes, she tried a variety of ways to get herself to a point where she could reach it - including one abortive attempt to carry a chair that was twice her size from the veranda to the garden in order to do so! In the process, she continued to ignore her mother's exhortations to "just apologise and I'll help you". It was a good 20 minutes before she managed to get one of the adults who had missed the earlier exchange to lift her onto the trampoline, but from the energy with which she proceeded to jump up and down thereafter, she clearly had a lot of testosterone to get out of her system...
Of course, even the most sweet-natured child can occasionally display such steely determination, given the right incentive. While staying with a friend in London, I spent a lot of time with her two little girls, Zara and Alina. After quite a long period of entertaining the girls one morning, I decided that I needed some "downtime". Since Zara, who is six years old, appeared quite determined to follow me into my room, I pacified her by saying that I had to make some phone calls in privacy, and promised that I would come out again in a little while to play with her. Being a well-mannered child, she reluctantly acquiesced.
A quarter of an hour later, my attention was drawn away from the book I had been reading by scuffling noises at the door. I opened it to find Zara standing there looking guilty but determined. "What are you doing?" I asked. She held up a strange looking toy - it looked like a rubber lizard, and when she squeezed it, its mouth opened and a long tongue flicked out. "This is a dragon" she said, "and just wait, in a little while, fire will come out of his mouth."
"But why do you want fire to come out of his mouth?" I queried, still puzzled. "Because I want to burn the door down!" she replied, with a degree of exasperation at my lack of comprehension. "But why?" I persisted. "Because I want to come in!" she said plaintively. Coupled with that degree of charm and candour, who could resist those pleading brown eyes? Not I! So I gave up any hope of downtime, and the door stayed open for the remainder of my trip...
Finally, it's important to recognise where such determination can lead, if one is to avoid occasionally dire consequences. My friend's four-year-old daughter, Laleh, is still struggling to come to terms with her disappointment at the arrival of her new brother (he is unaware that he was supposed to have been her sister, already named Lara in anticipation!)
Somewhat alarmingly, Laleh is clearly not ready to give in to this crushing blow just yet. She has already suggested that her mother might still be able to provide her with a sister, and having received a negative response to that suggestion - and conceding that her mother's stomach is now rather smaller than it was before her brother's arrival - Laleh has now innovatively suggested that her father (who has been unkindly described as recently having become "rotund") might be the one who can provide her with her much-desired sister!!
Given how determined Laleh seems to be on this issue, my fear is simply that she might take matters into her own hands and do the best she can with what is on offer. And in this regard, I am reminded of a family friend whose five-year-old daughter dealt with her disappointment at the arrival of a baby brother, by dressing him in her dolls' clothes for the first few years of his life i.e. until he was old enough to protest effectively! He's still living it down...
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