The Magic of When/Then Statements

“If you don’t put on your pants, we can’t go to the library.”

Little Legs threw himself down, stretching out his limbs and kicking like a long-distance swimmer. The only difference was that this athlete wasn’t going anywhere, until he put on his pants.

Big, fat tears of protest rolled down his red cheeks. The injustice of the request was too much. It was all too unfair. If he was holding on by an emotional thread, the thread snapped and he went into a full tantrum. Meanwhile, Baby Brother, fully dressed, stood over Little Legs watching and holding his coat next to the bag of books that was neatly packed and placed by the door.

I tried to intervene at the risk of undermining my authority and offered to help.

“Here, I will put on this leg and you do the other.”

At this, he screamed, “I am not a baby.”

We were in a stand-off, or in this case, a crying-and-screaming-off, where no one was going to win.

“When you put your pants on, then we can go to the library,” I said in a tactical change of word usage.

The when/then statements were supposed to work magic on the irrational preschooler, a feat that I had yet to see. In my mind, it would work like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, taming the beasts by staring into their eyes.

Little Legs would nod his head in agreement and repeat, “When I put on my pants, then we can go to the library.”

And of course, he would then wipe the tears from his face, put on his pants and give me a hug to say, let’s work together, I’m sorry, without saying a word.

Instead, he continued to scream, kick and refuse to wear pants.

He made two things quite clear; he needed some alone time and that we were not taking a trip to the library.