“Those are the resolutions you want me to have! They’re not what I want!,” my 5-year-old shouted at me, fists clenched. She was right, of course. I was the one who asked her to make New Year’s resolutions to stop crying incessantly and to get better about making it to the potty in time. I can’t even remember what the blow-up was in reaction to, but it wasn’t the first time she’d thrown her independence in my face. “You don’t control my body!” “You can’t tell my poop what to do!” My daughter and I have been fighting the battle of the bowels for over a year, and I’ve been waging a war against wailing for even longer. This year, though, I finally figured out how to get my 5-year-old to stop complaining and misbehaving, and it was entirely by, well, accident.
I’m less Tiger Mother Amy Chua and more Erica Jong; I don’t believe there’s any one strict parenting method that will work for everyone, so I feel extraordinarily lucky to have stumbled upon this trick to keep my daughter yearning to behave well. This was a hard-won victory, too, considering that just the day before discovering it I was up late after a particularly tear-filled bedtime Googling “5 year old crying.” Surprisingly, I’m not alone. I noticed that when you type “5 year old cr” into Google, they offer you search suggestions in a drop-down list that indicate other parents feel my pain: “5 year old crying,” “5 year old cries about everything” and “5 year old cries.” Finally, they offer “5 year old crafts,” which are just about the only thing my 5-year-old doesn’t cry about.
We were leaving the grocery store the other night when I suddenly turned to my daughter and said, “You know, you were pretty well-behaved just now. I’m impressed. Out of 10 possible points, I’d say you scored an 8.” I could never have anticipated what happened next. She said, “I want 10 points! What can I do to get 10 points?”
From that point on, she’s been fixated on maintaining a perfect 10, and even catches herself in bad behavior, saying, “Does this mean I get a point taken away?” The best part? The points aren’t redeemable for anything. They’re just a marker of how polite and responsible she’s being, no reward necessary, other than self-satisfaction.
I’ve written pretty extensively both on Strollerderby and my personal blog about how hard I’ve tried to get my daughter to stop having accidents, and while this new point system hasn’t prevented them completely, she is much more conscientious about doing a better job of listening to her body’s cues about when it’s time to push out a poop. Unfortunately, there is a medical component here, in that children her age who have bathroom issues tend to get constipated, so in fighting that part of the problem with laxatives, she has trouble sometimes controlling a loose deuce. Nonetheless, I’m hoping that 2011 is the year that my kid kicks the only bad habits that plague her, and that we get to head into 2012 with a perfect 10.