My son is spending more and more time on the stairs these days, specifically the bottom step facing the sitting room. Termed, optimistically, his ‘thinking step’, it’s become a sort of purgatory for him, a place to sit and reflect on his misdeeds. And these are increasing in frequency. Since he turned two, his gallop towards independence has brought a sizeable uptick in his vocabulary, sense of self and a passion for hitting his adoring parents.
This last pastime has become one of his favourite sources of entertainment. To his mind there is literally nothing funnier than a well-placed slap on my horrified face, or a deft smack to his mother’s forehead. Often the only thing that makes him pause is his own convulsive laughter, which forces him to take a breath, before cracking straight back on with his campaign of assault.
To his mind there is literally nothing funnier than a well-placed slap on my horrified face
We try to follow the advice – never reward aggression, acknowledge the emotions behind any bad behaviour. But the emotion behind this behaviour appears to be, simply, that he finds it funny. The awkward thing is, he’s right. It is funny.
He’s 80cm tall and his fists are still pudgy enough that his knuckles are concave dimples. He’s built like someone you could imagine being shot out of a cannon in a Victorian circus. As the adults in the room, we should be furious, but as witnesses to what’s in front of us, we have to deadpan that he’s done a very bold thing, while our lips tremble and our eyes melt.
I’m not a disciplinarian. I apologise to lamp posts when I bump into them. I once said sorry, out loud and to no one, when a bus drove over a puddle and doused my shoes. And trying to make him feel remorse is hard since he doesn’t know the word for sorry. In fairness, he can just about say his own name, so expecting him to have the empathy and social reasoning required for guilt is asking a bit much. But perhaps we need to stick up for ourselves a bit more.
So, we revert to the time-honoured tradition of time-outs, placing him on the thinking step whenever he’s been particularly bold, in the hope that he realises he’s being punished. It hasn’t happened yet. He finds it ungovernably hilarious, giggling like he’s been placed in a chill-out area to relax after the rave he’s just enjoyed.
These exiles originally lasted about eight seconds before he bounced back into the room. Our best mock-serious faces did nothing to dissuade him. ‘The beatings shall continue,’ he seemed to say as he climbed on to the couch, idling his fists like a cartoon boxer, ‘until morale improves.’ Then he made 10 seconds, then 15. If we can get him there for 30, will his reign of terror be reined in? And can we stay straight-faced long enough that we become once more, the adults in the room?
We haven’t cracked it yet. It’s fair to say I’ve got a lot to think about. If you need me, I’ll be on the step.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats