Caught in the act.

Friday, December 21, 2012
Life has been crazy. I know I haven't documented one single step of the reason why, but I'll save that for another post, soon, I promise. This post has an entirely different purpose and I wanted to write it down so that I would never, ever forget this story.

Henry's been showing his three year old self quite a bit as of late. Tantrums, whining, not listening, etc. etc. They say 3 is worse than 2, and so far, I believe that's a pretty true statement. I've been trying a number of things lately to combat this three year old's behavior, but to no avail was anything really working or sticking.

So about two weeks ago, I introduced a little reward system. Every time he listened right away to a direction and followed through, he could get 1 M & M--his coveted favorite form of chocolate candy. If he didn't listen, yelled, talked back or was aggressive, 1 M & M would go into the trash can.

Now, I know that positive reinforcement is typically the preferred method of reinforcement, but as I found as a teacher for 4 years, some kids NEED it paired with negative reinforcement, thus why I decided to include the "throwing away" of the M & M...but let's be honest, I'd never really let a perfectly good piece of chocolate go to waste. They may or may not have been going into my belly. ;)

Henry caught on quickly. Actually, almost too good and too quickly, for after just a few days I would ask him to do something to which he'd say "OK mama" and then ask for his M & M. Sorry, honey, but you actually need to COMPLETE the task before you are rewarded. He quickly tried negotiating that the M & M was for the verbal compliance alone. After a few tantrums of that, we got over it and were doing pretty good. It has definitely helped him follow certain directions much more than he was before, but by no means is all behavior perfect yet.

Then, fast forward to Ryan and I returning from our house hunting trip and I took over the M & M reward system again. Tuesday I had asked him to pick up his toys. He ignored me, then said no or something to that effect. After I said I needed to go throw one away he immediately said "Ok mama, but I want to get some water first". Ok, fine, you can have some water. He walks over to get a cup, turns around with a look of utter satisfaction and excitement and says "Mama, how about while I'm getting my water YOU pick up the toys and then YOU can get an M & M, ok?"

Seriously, this 3 year old can negotiate with the best of them. Have you stopped laughing yet? Ok, good. Because THAT's not even the best part of this tale.

Fast forward to today. For the past few days, I've noticed I've had to wipe off his face after he's gotten an M & M because he has had chocolate goop/spit on his mouth. Hmm, that's a little odd. How is this kid getting so messy eating just one M & M? I've been letting him go in the pantry and getting his own out of the container for some time now. Today, he got one mid morning for something and I noticed he had closed the door. Didn't think much of it, but when he closed the door AGAIN right after lunch for getting one, I opened the door to see what was going on.

Obviously, you know where this is going.

I opened the door to a 3 year old still wearing his cute little santa jammies with a mouth full of M & M's chewing as fast as his little jaw could chew. As soon as he locked eyes with me, the look on his face was pretty much "Oh, shit.", while I was trying with all my might to not even bust a smile even though I wanted to die of laughter.

He still gets pretty sad/nervous/anxious or whatever you want to call it when he knows he's done something wrong, so I tried to trick him so he wouldn't get immediately upset and just said "Oh Henry, can I see what color M & M you picked?" He spit one out of his mouth and tried to utter "red" (which is obviously pretty difficult when your mouth is FULL of M & M's). His attempt to speak confirmed my suspicision, as more chocolate was clearly evident in his little mouth.

He tried to cover up his mouth with his hand while he finished chewing and then just started bawling. He absolutely knew he wasn't supposed to be doing it, knew he was being sneaky, and knew he had been caught and was probably scared that he was going to get punished (which was not the case, I just wanted to talk it out with him). He wouldn't calm down even though I told him it was ok and that we just needed to listen to mommy explain why that was wrong.

After I had him wash off all the chocolate from his hands and mouth he had calmed down enough to listen. I asked him questions like "How many M & M's do we get?", "Is it a good idea to be sneaky?", "What should we do next time?", etc. After a few "I don't knows", more tears, and then some "I'm tired, I want to go to nap" (because he clearly wanted to avoid the whole thing) he finally answered all the questions to the point that I figured he understood what about it was wrong. I also tried to explain what he was feeling (which was likely a combination of fear, nervousness, anxiety, and embarrassment---none of which are easy to explain to a 3 year old).

I immediately called Ryan to tell him (because good stories like this just can't wait) and laughed the whole way through it.

I'll hand it to the kid. He's smart. We all know that. And he likely got away with it for a handful of days before I caught on (when we started this whole M & M idea, if I allowed him more than 1 he'd bring them to the kitchen table to count and make sure he was getting the adequate number of M & M's).

While I tried my best NOT to laugh, it was really hard. As "naughty" as it was, it was so cute. He had been a sneaky little mister and knew enough to close the door. Like I said, he knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and I felt so bad for how scared he was because he was obviously not expecting to get caught and probably had no idea what he was feeling.

Once I took him up to bed I asked him "What did you learn today?", and he simply replied "1 M & M," while holding up 1 finger with a half smile on his face. The first of many life lessons, I'm sure.
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