Posted by: workforcookies | March 24, 2009

Pulling the plug

images1My son has taken to hitting me.

Don’t worry, there’s no reason to call the authorities. In fact, I have it on good authority (numerous parenting books and parents) that hitting at the age of two is completely normal. Still, it doesn’t mean I like it. I also don’t like the fact that he’s still using a pacifier. So I came up with a solution that will hopefully rid him of both these nasty habits at once.

After his last slug-fest, I made him give away his Thomas the Train as punishment. This sounds bold, but it’s honestly pretty lame considering that the little blue engine he relinquished was one of three in his collection. Still, I hoped it would impress upon him the fact that there would be consequences for hitting. Upping the ante, I told him if he hit Mommy again, he’d have to give away something else.

“Maybe I could give Percy away next time,” he offered helpfully, sounding almost hopeful at the prospect of surrendering the green engine in exchange for another turn at swatting Mommy. Not the reaction I was hoping for. 

“No. I don’t think we’ll give away Percy. If there is a next time, I think you’ll lose something more special to you than Percy,” I said and I tapped his pacifier. He didn’t say a word. Game over, I silently hoped to myself…but it wasn’t. Less than a week later, all decked out in his pajamas with his pacifier in mouth, he smacked me. 

“Did you just hit Mommy?” I asked him, trying to buy myself some time. I knew what the consequence should be, but I wasn’t sure if I could go through with it. He loves his pacifiers. They live in his bed, and sometimes when he’s tired he’ll tell me he needs to “go check on them.” How cute is that? If he’d said it was an accident, he might still have his pacifier today, but he didn’t. 

“Yes, I hit Mommy,” he said.  His unwavering stare was a challenge. I reached out and pulled the little blue plug out of his mouth…plink! “I’m sorry you did that, you can’t have your pacifier anymore,” I said with honest regret. He looked mildly concerned, but more confused. There were no tears——until he got into bed. “Mommy, can I have my green pacifier?”

I declared myself a parenting genius! Not only did I ditch the pacifier and address hitting in a way that truly made an impact, but now whenever he asks for his pacifier, I can reinforce the lesson by reminding him where his pacifier went and why. And, as if it could get any better, it’s not like he can blame me—evil mommy—for the missing nighttime necessity. It’s gone because of something HE did. But, as with most of my parenting decisions, I soon began to question the brilliance of my plan. Did I make a difficult milestone even harder for my son by turning it into something punitive?

My husband and I had been preparing my son for the idea that he would have to give his pacifiers away some day. We’d told him that big boys don’t need pacifiers and that he was becoming a big boy. Our plan was to give him some spiel about the pacifier fairy—a close cousin of the tooth fairy who favors Nuks to teeth. Secretly, I worried that my son wouldn’t be up to the challenge. Two year olds are not typically very giving, and my son is a typical two year old. I couldn’t see him actually agreeing to give his beloved pacifiers to anyone, much less some fairy he’s never laid eyes on before. 

“What happened to the pacifier fairy? I thought we were planning to wait until his third birthday.” My husband asked, sounding concerned when I reported my pacifier snatching activities to him.

“Well, he didn’t make it,” I snapped, then immediately began to worry that my lack of faith in my son had robbed him of an opportunity to feel proud of himself, to feel like a big boy. I scoured the parenting books, but nowhere could I find instruction on removing an object of comfort as punishment. I turned to the internet and found numerous stories of parents invoking the pacifier fairy, and others of parents mutilating Nuks—slowly snipping away at sucker until there was nothing left but a nub…but nobody had stooped to my level, making their child feel THEY were at fault for the loss of a beloved pacifier.

Over the next three days at nap time and bed time, my son continued to ask for his pacifiers—the blue one, the green one, the one with the froggy on it, the turtle, etc. Each time, I reminded him why he wasn’t allowed to have them, but I also began to tell him he’s a big boy now and he doesn’t really need to use a pacifier anyway.

Last night as I tucked my son into his bed, he asked me once again where his pacifier was.

“It’s in the tin on your shelf,” I told him.

“Can I have it,” he asked, almost certainly sensing that my resolve was weakening.

“No,” I said. Even I could hear the exhaustion in my voice. “And you know why you can’t have it.”

“Because I’m a big boy? ” he asked.

“Yes, because you’re a big boy and you don’t need pacifiers anymore,” I said, feeling relieved. Maybe, just maybe, I haven’t scarred him for life!

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