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Bear learned a hard lesson today.  Mommy is still trying to figure out hers.

Bear has been purposefully defying me at music class for the past several weeks.  There are not a lot of rules at music class.  The kids sit in a circle on a large, gym mat with their mothers, and aside from the general prohibition against hurting each other, they are not required to stay in the circle or even to participate.  Most of the toddlers in Bear’s class do sit attentively with their mothers.  Several of the more spirited children – like Bear – often run around the circle or entertain themselves when their interest wanes in the activity.  Bear, however, has taken to lying on her stomach on the mat and licking it at various times throughout class.  After she licks this dirty mat that everyone walks on with their bare feet, she looks at me like Mommy, what are you going to do about it? 

I should know better than to engage in a battle of wills with a toddler, especially my toddler.  Bear does not have a lot of “rules” at home, and she is a fairly cooperative child most of the time.  When I ask her to help me pick up her toys or her books, she will help.  Mealtimes are not a battle ground.  Bear eats what she wants, and if she doesn’t want to eat anything, we don’t force her.  If she doesn’t want to sleep at nap time, I tell her that she doesn’t have to.  Instead, she can sit in her crib surrounded by books and entertain herself until inevitably, she falls asleep.

Discipline has not been an issue in our house.  I do not hit my child.  I do not enforce traditional time-outs.  Instead, we try to be consistent and set reasonable boundaries and try not to expect more than Bear is developmentally capable of.  For the most part, our ideas about acceptable behavior and Bear’s wants and desires seem to coincide.  Maybe we have just been lucky so far.

At home, if Bear wanted to lick the floor, I would explain why she shouldn’t, but I would not make a big deal about it.  However, at music class, I have a real issue with her licking the mat, not only because it is disgusting and it spreads germs, but because Bear is a very intelligent and capable little girl, and this behavior reminds me of something that you would see from a wild animal.  It seems completely uncharacteristic of her.   However, even beyond this, Bear is obviously testing me, and I have struggled to decide if this behavior calls for a response.

For the first several weeks, I calmly asked Bear to stop or attempted to redirect her back to the group activity.  Last week when the licking began, I pulled her onto my lap and whispered in her ear.  I did this several times, and the last time, I told her that if she did not stop that we would have to go sit outside of the class.  She stopped.

This week, she began licking the mat and then looking at me, inviting a response, and I silently picked her up and took her outside the class.  We sat on a bench for a few minutes and talked about why we shouldn’t lick the mat.  I reminded her that if she did it again, that we would leave the class again.  She did it again, and again, we left.  I let her return to the class with one more reminder.  If she continued to lick the mat, we would go home and she would miss her favorite part of the class where she gets stamps on both hands and her stomach.  She nodded her head and said that she understood.

Within a minute of returning to class, she was back on her stomach licking.  Without saying a word, I picked her up, grabbed my purse and our shoes, and we left.  Bear began howling NO as I carried her down the hall.  She began wailing in the car and crying for Daddy and even for the dog.  I was sad, because I knew that she was missing her favorite part of the class.  She waits for this class all week, and all weekend, she shows off her stamps.  It was hard to not want to take her back inside and let her stand in line for her stamps.

I called my husband on the way home, and he said that he agreed with my response.  Even so, I can’t help but wonder if I am making too big of deal out of this licking.  It is important to be consistent, but it is also important to pick your battles.  I am worried that I’ve chosen the wrong one to fight, and now that I have made my stance clear, I can’t drop it.  We may never make it through another music class again.

It is hard to know which lines are the ones that should be drawn.  If Bear had been repeatedly hitting another child, my response would have been unquestioned.  But, was this one of those moments?  I just don’t know.


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