Bring back the old evil eye
The old evil eye just ain’t what it used to be.
Remember when Mom, or your teacher, or really any adult authority figure, could scope out your bad behavior ” even the hint of bad behavior ” and stop it up short with “the look.” First came the eyebrow, raised nearly imperceptibly; then an ever-so-slight squint of the eye, followed by a slight lowering of the chin; and finally ” the piece de resistance ” a showdown of obvious might: the stare down.
And for most well-adjusted, healthy, normal kids, that was enough. “OK, I’ll take the cat out of the dryer. Sheesh.”
Why were we so quick to respond to the evil eye? Maybe because we knew it, in and of itself, was the only warning we’d get. And who knew what ominous consequence might follow.
Sadly for today’s kids, “the look” is no longer widely used.
Take, for instance, the kids I saw on a recent trip to a mall. One small boy was knocking a toy against a nearby trash can and, though the sound was a little annoying, it was no big deal. But since Mom thought it was bothering people she asked him to stop. But not really. Her request went something like this:
“Sweetie, please stop banging that.”
“Honey, seriously, that’s bothering people.”
“Ho-ney,” (cue the exasperated sing-song voice).
At this point the boy looked at his mom just to make sure she really meant business, clearly saw that she didn’t and, in his own showdown, banged again while staring at her.
Expecting Mom to really let him have it now, I watched as she took a step closer and (would she take away the offending noise-maker and create a tantrum? Remove him from the store? Smack him on the bottom?), she said:
“OK, buddy, that’s one.” What? I thought telling him to stop the behavior was “one”!
“That’s two … “
Oh, say it isn’t so.
“OK, I’m serious now. Two and a half … “
Now I was serious: I seriously wanted to throw up.
Is it a fear of parenting in front of others? Is it a lack of skill altogether? Is it some mumbo-jumbo new-age technique?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that kids do what works. If whining for a cookie gets me a cookie, guess what I’ll do next time? You got it ” whine! If throwing a tantrum in public embarrasses Mom and she’ll cave to whatever I request, it doesn’t take long for me to figure out, that’s a strategy I can use!
Kids will always come to need at least the same number of warnings as you give them. So here’s a radical idea: set the limit once and then (gasp!) follow through.
If all goes as planned, you might just wind up with responsible kids who respect and love you.
Oh, and as a back up, you might want to bring back the old evil eye.
Charla Belinski’s column runs every other Sunday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. She teaches parenting classes through YouthZone and writes frequently about parenting and family life. Contact her at belinskis@ comcast.net.
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