It’s tricky balancing greater leniency with rules.
How does a grandparent stop a rambunctious two-and-a-half-year-old from constantly picking up the phone, fiercely banging the buttons, and then holding the receiver to his ear while he imitates using it?
We are not new grandparents by any means but, with my other son and his family living far away, our younger son’s child, Justin, is the only one with whom we have been intimately involved since birth. So, in a practical, hands-on sense, Justin is our ‘first.’ While we have delighted in him, we were rudely jolted out of our easy adoration when he moved into the ‘terrible twos’. Suddenly, we were faced with having to set limits and develop rules.
With the benefit of long parental experience, it should have been easy but, in some ways, it proved unexpectedly harder. Justin is not our child so, first, we had to take our cue from his parents about what they wanted reinforced. Then we had to balance how far we went in allowing greater leniency as grandparents while still maintaining some basic rules. We also realized we needed both patience and innovation to get our message across without playing the heavy and losing the special relationship we had built with Justin.
Some things were relatively easy. Justin was quick to follow our example of automatically removing shoes at the door. So much so that he still reminds me every time I come in the door, “Shoes off, Grandpa!” On simple courtesy, we employed some of the same methods we’d used on Justin’s father at that age – adding, “Please?” to each request when he didn’t; repeating, “Thank-you?” when we gave him something, delaying the release of the article until he repeated the words. As Justin is very fond of grandma’s cookies, he quickly reasoned compliance was the fastest way to get both praise and the lid off the jar.
Other things we learned the hard way. For reasons best known to him, Justin decided that getting dressed in the morning was for the birds and any attempt at pulling a T-shirt over his wiry, red-hair usually resulted in mayhem. After much frustration, it occurred to us to turn the whole thing into a game. Thereafter, cornering the elusive little eel resulted in plenty of giggling. As long as we didn’t attempt to do everything in one go, getting dressed became a laughter-filled – if lengthy and breathless – procedure.
At the end of the day, Justin loves his special quiet time with us but we struggled to find a way to prevent his tears from falling when it was time for bed. Eventually, we discovered that by saying, “It’s nearly bedtime,” a little in advance allowed Justin to ask for, and gain, one more story or ‘Treehouse’ cartoon. Having won his ‘extra’ time, Justin would savour it and then usually shut the book or turn off the TV before proudly adding, “Finished; time to go to bed now.”
Some things are still evolving. Mall car parks are hideously dangerous places for youngsters and we always insisted Justin hold one of our hands when going between the car and the store. Like any energetic youngster, Justin couldn’t see the point and usually voiced his objections quite loudly. We waited for a rainy day. When it came, we each held one of Justin’s hands and swung him over the puddles in the parking lot. As we expected, Justin quickly forgot about the puddles and simply wanted to try swinging ever higher each time we went to the mall. That’s going to have to change soon, though. Forty-five pounds of athletic boy yanking on our arms is starting to prove a bit heavy.
And that’s the key point. As he gets older, we constantly have to think up new ways of staying ahead of Justin, which brings me back to how we stopped him from playing with the telephone. Actually, we didn’t. It was the phone company that put an end to this particular problem. One day, Justin’s random hammering of the keys triggered a hollow, disembodied operator instruction to hang up and try the number again. He was so terrified, he hasn’t done it since!