January 05, 2006

Parent Tricks #3: The Lawyer Rule

Sooner or later, your kid is going to turn into a Junior Lawyer. Not once, but several times over her/his growing years. Unless you've always wanted to be a judge on the Family Court circuit, this is going to be very, very annoying. Annoying in the way that an infected ingrown nail is annoying, or finding an angry swarm of nomadic hornets in your bathroom is annoying, or having a 10-inch chef's knife stuck in your neck is annoying (don't you just hate when that happens?)

We all expect and are prepared for the arguments that our Lawyer Child will make in order to be allowed to go somewhere s/he wants to go or do something s/he wants to do. The part that really gets up our nose, and which we usually are not prepared for, is the constant picking away at everything and anything that we say or do, having to explain and justify every little decision over and Over and OVER again until that chef's knife starts to look like our best anaesthetizing friend.

Now, you can grit your teeth and bear it. If you want to do that, I accept your decision. But don't expect me to follow you down that dark path, dear reader... There Be Monsters (and the nice men with the special long-armed jackets).

The Vampire showed a fine sense of the letter of the law when he was less than three years old.


Our little family was visiting my old and dear friend, whose beautiful son was ten months younger than the Vampire. The adult couples sat down in the cozy kitchen for a nice game of cards. My friend's son Max, who was barely verbal at that point but was already conversant with the devastating effectiveness of Tragedy Eyes, came running into the room with the news that "He hit me!"

We called our miscreant into the room, told him to stop hitting Max, and both boys cheerfully ran out of the room. Our game continued. For about two minutes. Again, Tragedy Eyes invaded our peace. "He hit me!" Again the Vampire was called to the carpet, and told in no uncertain terms that he will be In Trouble if he hits Max again. The Vampire trudges deterinedly out of the room, Max trailing merrily in his wake.

I'm not entirely sure we had another two minutes before the next advent of The Eyes. I'm pretty sure that my tone was not dulcet when I called my son back into the room.

"Stop hitting Max."

The budding attorney eyed me coolly.

"But I like hitting Max."

Okay. I admit that this took me aback a bit. Not the response I was expecting from a child who habitually admitted to, and sincerely apologized for, infractions that he hadn't even actually committed. So my response was a little flustered:

"Well, you can't."

Another long, cool appraisal from my darling boy, who was still a long, long way from being toilet trained.

"It is *possible*, so I can."


You see the problem. When the Vampire entered the first of his *real* Lawyer Phases, I spent a week or two going slowly Telltale-Heart-style mad. Until I thought up this Rule, which worked like a charm:

You may argue with something I say ONCE, and only once, per day. On that one issue I will promise to listen to your position very thoroughly, fairly, and open-mindedly, and will do everything I can to either agree with you, or to find a win-win compromise. HOWEVER, if after that one argument per day you make any other argument, knit-pick *or request*, my answer will *automatically* be in the negative, no matter how reasonable your position or request may be, and any whining, bugging, repeated questions etc will simply be ignored and/or you will be sent to your room, where you can pester yourself to your heart's content. So choose your battle very wisely, because you won't get any slack for the rest of the day.

My son, a kid with his eye on the main chance and a fine sense of Priorities, usually stopped Lawyering within a day or so - he'd 'save up' his one argument all day, for fear of not having it available when he really needed it, and usually ended up not using the opportunity at all.

Hooray for Sneaky Parent Tricks!


Blogger Chris said...

He doesn't read your blog, does he? ;)

11:52 AM  
Blogger mE said...

You notice that all these Tricks address problems common to young children, rather than to Teenagers, right?


2:55 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Not a bad idea there. Ever tried it with Teenagers?

Oh, my. 'sxplcktq'.

5:43 PM  
Blogger mE said...

That pixie has it in for you!

We've done it enough that now when the Vampire starts edging into that sort of behavior I just say, 'I'm getting tired, let's have the Lawyer Rule again...' and he knows what's up and stops the behavior. I don't know how it would work on teens who hadn't done it as kids, though...

What I've observed with my friends who have been more permissive/less sneaky with their little ones is that it's MUCH easier to reign in a Teen who was reigned in as a kid than it is to reign in a Teen who has always been accustomed to more or less ruling the roost. The problem being that little kids who make their own rules generally are either being cute or being mildly annoying, where Teens who make their own rules can be a serious danger to themselves and to their parents' sanity.

Thing is, I can comfortably vouch for the effectiveness of certain methods for little kids, having dealt with hundreds of them (many with EBD's) and having successfully raised a kid into teenhood in such a way that many adults who aren't even related to him invite him to adult group activities (hunting trips, theater/opera events, 'lunch with the guys', etc).

But as the Vampire hasn't reached adulthood yet, and I haven't worked extensively in a 'disciplinary' function with large packs of teens, I can't yet say with authority what the end product of my 'teen methods' will be. Certainly the Vampire is not a perfect human being yet, he's definitely got a reasonable number of annoying teenage behaviors, and I have a certain amount of concern about his near-total lack of ambition for his future... but so far I'm tremendously proud of who he is as a person, and find him to be a wonderful companion.

I'll report more (or less) confidently on the general success of my 'Teen Methods' in 4 years or so, I guess! :)

11:35 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

"...but so far I'm tremendously proud of who he is as a person, and find him to be a wonderful companion."

That's awesome. And that says a lot about you. :)

7:04 AM  
Blogger mE said...

Thanks - although really it may say a lot more about his inborn character, I'm not sure... :)

'mfpaixtz' - is that good, or bad?

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mine have become horribly legalistic...
"Have you done your homeschool today?"
"All of it?"
"Well, no, you didn't ask if I'd done ALL of it."
etc. that sort of thing...hair-splitting, partial credit, perpetual negotiation...
I just hope to the gods they get government jobs when they grow up...

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My three-year-old has decided to redefine "share".
He'll come up to you, take something out of your hand, and announce that he is going to Share it. "Mama, I'm going to share that chocolate" (snatch).
But if you ask HIM to share something, he'll shout "NO! You can't have it!"
I scolded him today, "You're not sharing things. You're taking things. You're a robber!"
"I NOT, I just sharing."
Does he have a potential future career as a leftist politician, seizing tax money in the name of Redistribution?

2:36 AM  

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