Consistency is essential with your "yeses" and "noes" with children
Good mother Amy was training her son to treat her like a doormat
My friend Amy was recently visiting me (June, 2020) with her son Oli (who will be three years old two months from now). I noticed how Oli would often insist on being picked up and carried, both inside the house and outdoors. Sometimes Amy was happy to pick him up, but other times she was tired and wanted to take a rest.
Would you like some coaching?
We were walking back from an early evening snack from the foodcourt at the local mall, when I noticed Oli fussing and squirming for Amy to pick him up...I could see her reluctance and her conflict. "Would you like some coaching regarding this?" I asked. She said, "Yes."
Follow through consistently when you say "yes" or "no"
"Whenever he asks you to pick him up, if you are happy to pick him up (so that you're still taking care of yourself if you do that), then pick him up immediately without hesitation or resistance. If not, then say, 'no.' Even say 'no' twice. But no more than two times. Then, no matter what he does, no matter how long he persists in his tantrum, do not say 'no' any more and do not pick him up."
Oli had been well trained by Amy
She agreed. I was so impressed with Oli and how well Amy had trained him to treat her like a doormat. He screamed in Chinese, repeating incessantly, "Pick me up, pick me up." He shook his body, almost as if he were having a seizure. He used all his strength trying to climb up on his mother. Passer-byes watched in astonishment, perhaps wondering if the child was being abused. I had some concern about how Amy was handling all this so I asked, "How are you feeling?" She gave me a sly smile and said, "Powerful."
Gentle, non-blaming firmness and consistency was the key
Amy wasn't quite sure what to do once we were in my apartment. I said, "If he wants to sit in your lap while sitting down, okay, but don't pick him up while you're standing." Oli crawled onto her lap, but it was no consolation for him: she was not standing as he had been demanding. He continued in his tirade unabated. Amy and I continued to talk as best could. When Amy would look at me, Oli would use his hands to try to turn her face away from mine. The tyrant's power was being called into question and he was furious about it.
I got a timer out and setting in on five minutes each time, we played a game to see how long Oli would continue his amazing performance (and make no mistake about it, he knew what he was doing). I'm sure he broke some record at an hour and twelve minutes, but then, without warning, he stopped. Suddenly he became interested in the timer and within another minute, if someone else had entered the apartment, they would have no clue as to the storm that raged for over an hour and just ended two minutes before.
The doormat took a stand for a new role in life (bye bye, doormat)
"Amy, Oli has been treating you like a doormat. Because you have been treating yourself like a doormat." I said to her. I had spoken to Amy many times before about how her #1 job in life is to make sure she's taking care of herself, but somehow those words had little impact, even though she had "agreed" with them. This time, however (with a more dramatic phrasing), she got it. She started crying, expressing her deep sadness in seeing how she was the one who had treated herself like a doormat; she had trained Oli to do that for her. When Oli noticed his mother crying, he took a moment out of playing with the timer to smile at her with curiosity.
The change is permanent
I've checked in a few times with Amy since she returned to her home and husband in Shanghai. The change is permanent. Oli has learned quickly to respect his mother's "noes" when she says, "no." And Amy has a new life where she's showing respect to herself and taking care of herself. Amy so inspires me. I know she chose big courage.
Special note: when to move beyond complete consistency with "yeses" or "noes"
After a child reaches the age of four, they may begin to have the ability to engage in a partnership conversation with a parent or adult. When this occurs, then our children can learn that a "no" can sometimes turn into a "yes" in ways where both sides are better off. If the parent leaves an issue open to a partnership conversation, while wanting to accommodate the child's selfish desires, they must also remain steadfast in taking care of themselves in whatever they end up agreeing to with that child.