Just Ignore It
I'm on an airplane, and my 3-year-old daughter is beating her baby doll's head against the back of the seats in front of us. The seats are empty, and despite my wondering whether the person across the aisle thinks I'm raising a pathologically aggressive child, and knowing that the banging really does bug me, I'm ignoring it. This, I promise you, doesn't come easily.
I want to tell Anna to put the doll down. I want to explain that it isn't nice to bang Baby. I want to grab it and stuff it into my bag. But the reality is, she's not banging the doll all that hard, and it's not making much noise, hurting the doll or the seat, or, appearances aside, indicative of any deep-seated psychosis. Anna's just bored, and I'm mostly worried about what other people might think. Realizing this makes it easier. I don't comment on the doll-pummeling and instead offer her stickers. She takes them, and the doll, now at her feet, is spared. So are Anna and I, who have resolved the incident without confrontation.
Moderating my reaction and gently redirecting my daughter's behavior (or, in some cases, out and out ignoring it) is a parenting skill I've only recently -- and sporadically -- put into practice. It runs counter to my quick-response, take-action, talk-it-out personality. And the airplane episode was one of the easier ones for me to cope with. Sidelong glances from strangers and battered plastic babies I can ignore. But what about whining, or tantrums, or eleventh-hour bedtime begging? I know that my usual reactions -- exasperation, exhortation, submission -- will never put an end to these annoyances, and may in fact encourage them. Could I apply nonreaction to these as well?