It started out of exasperation. My now-teenager was a pre-schooler and was pushing boundaries. She had just turned five. Finally, in a moment of frustration, I said, “Can you please act your age? This is not how a five-year-old acts.”
“But I am five, Aba. I had a party at school!”
Sudden inspiration hits me:
“Yes well, if you don’t stop this, I’m going to call [teacher] and tell her that you have to go back to being four.”
The result? A thunderstruck child.
“You can do that?”
“Sure. You’ve heard of kids being left back a year? If you don’t act your age, then we take your birthday party back and you have to be four for a whole other year.”
“What? No! I want to be FIVE!”
“Then you’d better listen and act it.”
This sounds crazy, but it worked (although I may have gotten a call from a teacher…). For two amazing years, incidents of acting out could be curtailed with “Remind me how old you are?” Eventually, she came home and informed me that she’d figured it out.
My son turned 6 a little while ago. To say he was counting down is putting it lightly. One weekend, the only way to describe his behavior would be “absolutely atrocious.” A more sensitive boy than his sister was, I’d not used the birthday thing before. This time, though, I did.
“Ben, how old are you?”
“Five and THREE QUARDERS!” (his Ts still need work, I know).
“You know, if you want to be six, you have to act it, right?”
“I haf to what?”
“You have to act like a six-year-old. Otherwise, I am going to have to tell school that you cannot have your birthday and we’ll have to wait until you can behave like a six-year-old.”
“What? NO! I’ll be good!”
I know this sounds nuts. (There’s a reason my family motto is “I’m paying for the therapy anyway, I may as well get my money’s worth.” Note to self: Find out how to say that in Hebrew.) But this works. The trick, of course, is to say it in a calm, reasonable way–like it’s just a fact of reality. Never in a mocking or cruel way. Never as a punitive measure. It’s just a long-handed way to ask your child to please act his or her age, a request parents make every day. This just gives it some imaginary teeth.
It may not work for your kids, but it sure worked for mine.