Childhood Tenacity Can Cause Parental Insanity

Tenacity was something my mother tried to drill into my head throughout my childhood. She used to say things like ‘you can do anything you want to do if you just try hard enough’ (nice thought but not necessarily true). Another one of her favorites was the one about the drop of water that just wouldn’t stop dripping until it made it’s impression in the rock. I don’t need to use those phrases to teach our little one tenacity. Grandpa and I are doing our teaching in a little different (not exactly better) way. We teach her in the way we respond to requests she makes.

She dearly loves riding her bike but she’s only 6-years-old so she’s not allowed to do it without supervision. The rest of the neighborhood children range in age from 5 to 10 years old and are allowed outside without an adult present. It annoys her that Grandma and Grandpa are old fuddy-duddies who insist on safety. We don’t have sidewalks in our neighborhood so the kids have to ride bikes in the street. It’s not a busy street. We live in a nice quiet neighborhood but we do get our fair share of traffic. Someone has to be outside with them to yell ‘car!’ every time one goes by since the kids don’t seem to feel the need to get to the side of the road unless they hear that warning. So how does this involve teaching her tenacity? Let me explain how the bike riding discussion usually goes.

Normally the little one will go to Grandpa first. Mostly because Grandpa will say “no” to the first request. The second request will come about two minutes later and Grandpa will say, “give me a few minutes.” The third request will come less than five minutes later and Grandpa will say again (less patiently), “Just give me a few minutes.” The fourth or fifth or sixth request will follow closely on the heals of the previous request until Grandpa gives up with a sigh and says, “All right. We’ll go.” Grandpa has taught her persistence in the face of failure. I wouldn’t recommend this way of teaching. Now she understands that all she has to do is keep asking and asking and asking and asking until finally he gets sick of hearing it and gives it to her whether it’s good for her or not.

If she comes to Grandma, the conversation is a little different.

Little One: Can I ride my bike?
Me:      No
Little One: Can I ride my bike?
Me:     I said no
Little One: Can I ride my bike?
Me:    What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?
Little One: Can I ride my bike?
Me:    How many times to I have to say ‘no’?
Little One: Can I ride my bike?

At this point I will usually lose my temper. This involves either (1) sending her to her room; or (2) me shouting “Fine! Ride your bike! Do whatever you want just stop bugging me!”

My response is really no better than Grandpa’s. You see, children are gamblers at heart so they will continue inserting quarters in the parental slot machine until they get the pay-off they desire. If they never get the pay-off they desire, they will finally learn to accept the rules and live by them. But if they get the pay-off they want even one time out of ten, that’s good enough for them. They’ll be back for more next time! We have taught her tenacity but at the expense of our sanity.

There is a saying that if you can’t be an example, be a warning. I’m being a warning. Parents, decide what is important and stick to your guns when dealing with your children. Let your ‘yay be yay and your nay nay’. Doing so will bring harmony to your home. Not doing so will cause you to need therapy. Trust me on this!


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