I’m afraid I may have fallen into a trap.
A few months ago, I decided that my 2-year-old son needed to start learning some manners. And so began his first lesson: the word “please.” At first he kind of thought it was a joke, and when prompted to say it, he would hold out on me on purpose. But after several weeks of reinforcement, he came to learn that there is, indeed, a polite way to ask for things.
Only now there’s a problem. Every time my child says “please,” I feel like it sets the expectation that his wish will be unquestionably fulfilled. And it’s not just me internalizing–he sees it that way too.
A few weeks ago, my son finished up his dinner and asked nicely for some fruit afterward. (“Please blueberries and grapes” were his exact words). I obliged, and not at all grudgingly, as fruit is a typical part of our mealtime routine. But once he devoured his fruit, he followed it up with, “Please ice cream.” I hesitated. Ice cream is more of a special treat, but I wanted to reward him for asking so nicely.
That backfired. He had barely finished licking the bowl when he uttered yet another sugary request: “Please cookies.” At that point I had to say no, which I did. But his reaction just broke my heart.
“Please,” he repeated, looking me straight in the eye. “Please cookie. Please cookie.” He repeated that last bit about 15 times, each request getting more and more desperate and high-pitched.
“Sweetheart,” I explained, “you were a very good boy for saying ‘please,’ but you’ve had enough.”
He just didn’t get it, and it made me sad, because I could almost hear the frustration brewing in his brain. I imagine it was a 2-year-old version of “What the heck, Mommy–I asked like I was supposed to! What gives?”
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Over the past couple of weeks, my son’s persistent use of the P-word has caused me to feel like a terrible person on many an occasion. There was the time he begged for just one more story before bedtime, even though he’d already gotten an extra two. (“Please Mommy, something else book.”) Or, my favorite: The time he begged me to let him keep pulling my hair for sport, because apparently for a 2-year-old this is a fun thing to do. (“Please, more Mommy hair.”)
And I’ll admit it–at times, I’ve caved. Not on the hair thing, but on just about everything else. For the past few weeks, my son has gotten extra sweets and extra playtime before bed. He’s even gotten away with wardrobe-related demands by nailing me with the occasional “please ‘Thomas’ shirt” or “please frog pajamas.”
But the more he’s busted out the P-word, the more I’ve learned to stand my ground. And now, each time I do, I make a point of explaining to my son that while saying “please” is the right way to ask for something, it doesn’t always mean you get what you want.
I think he’s starting to get it, because just yesterday, he tried to P-bomb me into getting a second bowl of cereal at breakfast, to which I firmly insisted he’d had enough. He thought about it for a minute, and while I held my breath in anticipation of yet another anguish-ridden begging session, he nodded and reaffirmed what I’d just told him: “Enough cereal.”
Of course, I don’t think he’s always going to let me off the hook so easily, but I’ll just have to deal with it, which I know means accepting that I will inevitably wind up disappointing my child from time to time, despite my best intentions. All the politeness in the world can’t change the fact that I can only let him eat so many cookies and stay up so many minutes later before putting my foot down. And while it always breaks my heart a little to say “no” in the face of an adorably desperate “please,” I know it’s all part of being a parent, and a good parent at that.