FILED IN: Child Behavior


Photo: Image by Lindsay Wright

Our 3-year-old has a very liberal view on the role my wife and I play here at home. On the best of days, Victoria sees us as the commander of all fun things even remotely related to her, including (but not limited to):  the television, the refrigerator, the swimming pool, and the seemingly bottomless toy chest in her closet. On days like that, even the slightest sideways glance from either of us will make her back away from whatever terrible thing she’d been planning on doing.

Most days, however, we’re more of the friends that she hangs out with because someone forces her to. Sure, she’ll listen to us, talk to us — even do what we ask her to some of the time… but more often than not, our ideas are stupid and she’s just going to keep on climbing over the back of the couch and falling on her face. Any attempt at discipline is a joke – being sent to her room is pointless, that’s where all of her toys are. That’s where she’d rather spend her time, anyway.

Besides, she’ll usually just open her door and stare at us with that infuriatingly smug smile on her face. You’ve all seen that smile. It’s the smile that says, “I’m not going to listen to a word you say and there’s not a thing you can do about it, fatty.”  The kind of smile that makes her lucky that she’s cute, because I otherwise would have sold her to the gypsies a few years back. There’s pretty much nothing we could do about that smile, because she knew we had no leverage over her.

That was, of course, before we got the butterflies.

When we were in the process of putting together our newborn son’s room, we decorated the walls with some peel-and-place monkey stickers. They’re cute little things, I guess – they’re dancing all over the wall now like a little monkey rave. Victoria liked the decorations, but we got the vibe that she was a little jealous of all the new decorations that the new baby was getting.

Our response: finding some more “girly” stickers to plaster all over her room. We found a company overseas that made them, so we ordered a few batches.alf of the stickers were horribly ugly flowers that looked like smashed construction paper, so we’re still looking for a good occasion to use them – preferably involving someone we don’t like very much.

The butterflies, however, were the prize. While horribly gaudy in themselves, they don’t look too bad when they’re plastered up on the wall in groups. It gives the room a nature-ish atmosphere, in a sense. Would I consider them fine art? Not quite. They aren’t for me, though – as long as she likes them, what do I care?

The day they arrived, we showed them to her and received the requisite “part curiosity, part lack of understanding, part apathetic” attitude that is so typical of 3-year-olds. She recognized they were butterflies, all right, but their purpose in the grand scheme of things was a complete mystery to her. Only after helping her peel one off of the paper and telling her it was okay to stick it to her wall did she truly get excited.

Ten minutes later, eight bright, flowery insects were plastered in all directions around her room. She probably would have kept going had Dora not just popped onto the TV. I was under the impression that the novelty had worn off, but realized I was mistaken around bedtime when she anxiously asked me, “Hey, Daddy, did you see the butterflies I made?” As if I could have missed them.

For a few weeks, my daughter had developed the habit of hopping out of bed right at bedtime and running to our room to find us. Another fun trick she had developed was waking up at three in the morning to come and sleep/talk in our bed, as if we hadn’t already had enough fun through the daytime. As was standard procedure, there was no easy solution of getting her to stay put. Telling her to go back to bed was like telling a rock to do tricks. Physically moving her was like putting that same rock on a steep hill and telling it not to roll. Needless to say, we were a little frustrated.

This is the inspiration for the idea I had. As I was tucking her in, I sprung it on her. “Hey, Rora, did you have fun putting those butterflies up today?” I casually pointed to one on the wall near her head as I spoke.

“Uh-hmm,” she replied, her mouth busy sucking down water out of her sippy cup.

“Well,” I continued solemnly, “if you want to put another one up tomorrow, you need to stay in your bed all night and don’t open your door.”

Victoria looked at the butterflies on the walls surrounding her for a moment before turning back to me. “Okay.”

“You’re going to stay in bed all night?”

She nodded at me.

“You’re not going to open your door, right?”

She shook her head. This seemed as promising as anything else we’d tried, though we’ve long since been aware that children can be pathological liars when it suited their interests.  I kissed her on the forehead and left the room, praying for a miracle.

We didn’t hear from her again until 6:45 the next morning.  It had actually worked. The butterflies had, somehow, kept her attention from the previous day. This was something unheard of for us, as our daughter lacked attention for pretty much anything not related to Dora or Mickey Mouse.

The true power of the butterflies wasn’t clear until the day she refused to stop swimming in the pool when we asked her to. We tried to convince her in every way possible, and our voices were creeping into the level of threats (no desert, early bedtime, etc). It was only when I threatened to remove two of the painfully cheery stickers off of her wall did she even flinch. Even then, she balked, and I made good on my promise. I carried her into her bedroom, walked up to the wall and peeled two of the blasted butterflies off her wall as she watched.

You’d think I killed her puppy. She caterwauled for a good fifteen minutes about the injustice of it all. After she calmed down, she had the gall to tell me, “Don’t. Touch. My. Butterflies. Daddy.”

Insubordinate hissy fits aside, the butterflies have been an enormous success. No more late night visits and fussy bedtimes were worth it, but they’ve gone beyond that in a big way. Anything needed of her all goes back to the butterflies. “Eat your dinner or you don’t get your butterfly for today.” “Listen to grandma or you’ll lose a butterfly.” “Don’t paint on your two-week old brother or you’ll lose two butterflies.”

Oh, sure, some day she’s going to get tired of the butterflies. You can’t expect a kid’s attention span to last forever. Hopefully by then she’ll be thirteen and I can take away texting or something. Barring that, maybe we’ll give the ugly flowers another shot. You never know with kids.