You Suck, Daddy! Harsh Words From a Five-Year-Old
“You suck!” my 5-yo barked into my face, looking me dead in the eye. The words hit me like broken glass. My neck and stomach clenched, and I needed a moment to reset. Deep Breath.
Without betraying a hint of reaction, I turned around and walked away. As I did, he yelled, “Stupid. Idiot,” evoking a wince as I turned the corner. My stoic non-response is part of a strategy to disarm the weapons my youngest son recently opted to start firing to get his way. Recommended by a highly respected child psychologist, this approach is based on the idea of removing the child’s power. “Dropping the rope,” the doctor calls it, as in, don’t even engage in the pointless tug-of-war the child instigates.
My second son is not a bad seed. He is not the child that people shake their heads at disapprovingly. On the contrary, he is universally beloved and the most adoring and emotive member of our family. You may remember that he is the one I want touching me when I die. In fact, I hesitated to post this for fear of labeling this lovely boy a vulgar, loose cannon. Still, he is the most difficult and defiant of our two kids.
A few months ago, out of nowhere, B started verbally attacking his older brother using what my boys deferentially call, “the S-word” – stupid. We responded every time, doling out timeouts and brusquely escorting B to his room. But the behavior continued. Soon he added “idiot” to his tirades. He would not even use these terms properly but would simply yell out Stupid when frustrated.
Clearly, the problem is not the words themselves but his ability to deal with frustration.
Catcher in the Rye – The Best Books Ever Written, acrylic, paper, book cover on wood, 12″x12″, 2015, Stuart Sheldon
This behavior is now spilling into his classroom which hurts even more, because I did many of the same things at his age. Genetics?
Much like B, I was beloved by my teachers in elementary school. I was smart and funny and outgoing, a born leader. I was also a class clown who never missed a chance to yell out what I thought to be a clever barb. Anything to get a laugh. I received more than a few paddlings for this, one in front of the entire class.
For decades I’ve tried to discern what motivated me to be such a wiseguy. I imagine it was a desperate attempt for acknowledgment and acceptance; if I made everyone laugh, they’d have to like me. Why was I so insecure? I still don’t know that answer. I think some of us are just born starved for love. I imagine B’s issues are much the same.
Why does his frustration explode so quickly and completely consume him? No idea. All of his emotions run hot, a blessing and a curse. But, these anti-social actions cannot continue if he is to be a productive member of his school and society. A couple weeks ago, we had a teacher conference in which, B, his teacher, Jodi and I each very ceremoniously signed a contract which spelled out exactly how B was to behave in class (raise a quiet hand, use a quiet voice, stay seated during rug time, etc). He signed his name on the line below mine, pledging to behave well in exchange for various incentives: a chocolate chip when he got home and other cumulative rewards. That detente held about as long as your typical Sunni/Shiite ceasefire.
Unfortunately, as the child fails to get a reaction, it is perfectly normal for him to increase the intensity of his behavior.
Thus, we go from stupid to idiot to you suck. We are trying to maintain a unified front at home, but I must admit, having this pint-sized sailor swearing to my face really tests my reptilian brain. The first time he said it, my inclination was to place the back of my hand on the side of his cherubic face, as my father surely would have done with me. I refrained.
I do not feel this is a crisis at this point. B is at his core kind-hearted, one of the most generous souls I know. But how long is this rough phase to last? Is it just a phase?
Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
B was born to be big. All his gestures are grand, for better or worse. I feel this will serve him well in the long run. But, right now, we have arrived at one of those delicate parenting crossroads where I have many questions and very few answers. It defies intuition. I daresay my son may be right; part of me feels that I do suck … when it comes to figuring out what is driving his developing mind and how to guide him through it.