Getting a toddler to do what you want her to can be a complicated process. The kid is just learning the power of no, after all, and so the chances that she’ll do what you ask—brush her teeth, take a bath, for god’s sake put down the machete—are next to zero. You do everything you can to get the right outcome, deploying a commanding voice, threatening to take away beloved objects (the Dora doll, the Spongebob DVDs, Mom herself), and issuing timeout after timeout.
Lately, our house has seen a new and (to us, at least) fascinating twist in the struggle to accomplish basic daily chores. The other night, for example, I managed to brush Sasha’s without too much trouble, but then, when it came time for her to rinse, she refused. This was pretty frustrating. After all, if she refuses to brush (or be brushed) I know I can just make her cry, and then she’ll open her mouth, and then I can brush her teeth.
But rinsing her mouth out is something you can’t exactly force (at least, not till she’s, I don’t know, 10 years old). And so there was a standoff: yes, no, yes, no, YES, NO! I threatened to take away everything she loves—ice cream, Dora, her magic wand—but still she stood there on the verge of tears, until at last she whispered, “Timeout.” Yes, she wanted a timeout, and so I gave her one, and off she ran to her room, where she huddled up on her bed for a few minutes, then called my name. I opened the door, she came out, and she rinsed her mouth out, no problem.
Because of Sasha’s mother’s Chinese background, it’s hard for me not to see this as a proto-face-saving strategy. That is, Sasha actually wants to rinse her mouth out, but after her initial, instinctive no she can’t simply back down. But her experience with timeouts has taught her the ritual of punishment and reconciliation, after which a child habitually conforms to a parent’s desires. So now she requests the punishment, as her way out of this Gordian predicament. Either that or she knows that the timeout will give her the time and space to settle down enough not to care about rinsing her mouth out.
The amazing thing is, she’s already developed a twist on this strategy. I don’t remember what we were fighting over—probably bathtime—but it escalated to the point where she suggested a timeout for herself, but then, when I went to fetch her afterwards, she was still resistant, as if she thought the punishment ritual would be enough for me this time to forget about the clash. That was when I had to resort to traditional methods, dragging her kicking and screaming to the tub, pulling her clothes off and plopping her in. An old trick for this old dog, but I’m sure Sasha will find a way around it soon.