Picture taken by Levi at the time, after stealing Mommy’s phone…
There comes a time when your toddler starts to leave behind the days of being gullible and begins to call a parent’s bluff. My husband and I found ourselves in such a position with our 4 year old a while back. We had been trying to motivate him to clean his room. Positive reinforcement – Failed; Sitting in the room and bossing him into it, keeping him focused – Failed; Punishing him – Failed; Time limits and a whole long list of things.
It was Daddy’s turn to try his hand and so he set an alarm on his phone, “Levi, if you do not start picking up your toys in the next hour, I will be throwing them all away.”
Of course hearing this, I knew he was doing it trying to scare him into lifting a finger to pick up the toys.
An hour went by, the alarm went off, and there was zero reaction or signs of fear. Sighing, I went and grabbed some garbage bags, those big black ones for the full effect. The husband started bagging up toys off the floor. Still, no reaction, no flinching, not even watery eyes.
“Good job, Dad!” We hear Levi say with glee, “Here’s one!”
Justin furrowed his brow as Levi started picking up his toys and throwing them in the garbage bag in his hand.
“Ok Levi.” I sighed, impressed by my unmoved four year old. “Since you can’t take care of your toys, we will be throwing them all away.”
As the husband and I carried out the toy boxes, bins, and bags of toys we detoured them to our closet.
Justin closed the door behind him as he breathed, “What are we going to do now?”
Looking at the toys, I smirked, “Well, there’s a lot of broken and worn out toys here. Let me go through them and then we can toss those bags to show we aren’t bluffing.”
“I can’t believe he was helping me throw them away before he would clean them up…” He sighed, feeling defeated as he went back out the door with the two bags of toys to go to the dumpster. “Ok, Bubba. You’re going to have to help me throw these into the dumpster.”
“Ok Daddy!” It was an excited response and I was starting to feel defeated now. “Let me get my shoes on!”
I watched as he helped Daddy carry the bags out the door. Holding my breath, I awaited the return. Images of the tears and wailing coming back through the door danced in my mind. The jiggle of the door knob and the creaking of the door prompted me to come to the entryway. Justin paused, blowing up his cheek that were red as he gave me a wild look. Levi followed as if nothing happened.
“Go to bed.” Barked Justin, and gave him a hug and kiss night-night.
“Good night, Momma!” Levi hugged and kissed me good night and off to bed he went with no fight.
After it was confirmed he was down, I turned to the husband in shock, “What happened?”
“He’s calling our bluff!” Exasperated he flopped down on the couch. “I backed the pickup up to the dumpster, and HE THREW THEM AWAY!”
Two weeks. TWO WEEKS went by and still no tears… no asking where his toys were…. so I felt obligated to sit and talk to him one-on-one.
“Bubba, don’t you miss having toys?” Furrowing my brow, I tried to gauge his reaction.
“It’s ok Mommy.” Smiling, he patted my shoulder. “My toys are not in the trash, they are hiding in your closet!”
Flinching, I tried to play stupid.”No, Bubba, you threw them away, remember?”
“No.” He took my hand and started leading me to my own bedroom, flinging open the closet doors. “See! Look I play with them and put them back.”
Apparently, in moment where I got tied up with the baby, taking a bath, cooking dinner and so forth, he had been sneaking into the closet… playing with a toy and then placing it back the way it was. Sighing, I sent him back to watch his show and finish his lunch.
Reluctant, I picked up the phone, “Hey baby. We’ve been defeated… he’s called our bluff…”
What we ended up doing was rewarding him a toy at a time while creating a better system for picking up his toys. Granted, we had the occasional issues, but nothing to this caliber.