This week we have had a problem with hitting. On Monday Henry hit Amelia over a disagreement about who could play with the Daddy in her new dollhouse, he may have hit her again while they were playing in the yard (I couldn't be sure because she retracted her accusation, not wanting to lose her mud-digging partner to a timeout), and he definitely hit her while washing hands before dinner because she was taking too long at the sink.
Normally, Henry is so sensitive to criticism that a stern, "I am very angry right now, Henry," elicits a cascade of tears and an immediate cessation of the offending activity. But after the third hit, it became clear that more severe consequences were in order.
"We don't hit in this house," I told him. "No dessert for you."
He was quiet through most of dinner. I thought maybe he was reflecting on what he had done, contemplating the error of his ways. Finally he held out his hand to me and said, "How about this? If I don't get dessert, I'll throw a fit. If I do get dessert, I won't throw a fit!" He beamed at me.
I smiled back at him. "How about this?" I said. "If you throw a fit, there's no dessert tomorrow night, either." Henry scowled.
After a few moments he spoke again. "If you don't let me have dessert, it will make me hit Amelia a lot more times," he said, this time with a smirk. This was the four-year-old version of hardball.
"If you hit Amelia even one more time," I said, "your action figures go away."
Henry's jaw dropped. I leaned over until my face was level with his. "I don't negotiate with terrorists," I said.
"I am very angry and annoyed with you!" he said.
"Fine," I said.
"I am going to be very, very sad if I can't have dessert!" he said.
"That's good," I said. "Maybe you'll remember that next time you want to hit someone."
From then until bedtime, there was more wailing, more pouting, more discussion of his feelings on the matter. I stood firm. I stayed calm. Finally, at bed time, he said, "I won't hit Amelia any more." I felt pleased with myself.
The next morning he hit the cat. Twice. First time was a warning, second time his action figures took a 24-hour hiatus. Worse, the cat would have nothing to do with him. He was heartbroken and, possibly, chastened. He hasn't hit anyone or anything since. I'll keep you posted.
(Meanwhile, I told this story to my mom and she was instantly trying to figure out where the "bad influence" lay. "Is he learning this from kids in his class?" she asked. "Is it from TV?" Preschools and PBS: secret hotbeds of violence.)