Just Pretend He’s a Puppy

Yesterday, I told my five-year old son to pretend like his little brother (3) is a puppy. I wasn’t trying to get them to role play, though that’s not a bad idea. “OK, Silas, you’re the owner and Arlo, you’re the dog. Now use your imagination and go play, but no choking, OK?” I can imagine a child psychologist recommending something like that. “You should encourage your sons to engage in fun, make-believe play that forces them to cooperate.” That wasn’t my intention. Instead, I was simply attempting to help Silas understand why his brother goes “CooCoo Bananas” or “All Spazzy Mcgillicutty” as we call it.

“Sometimes Arlo just gets really excited and gets out of control. Kind of like when a puppy is super happy, he gets overly affectionate and bites you. Do you get mad at the puppy?”

That’s apparently the desperate state of things lately; in order to prevent my older son from becoming annoyed by all the pinching, pulling, pushing, occasional biting, and other spastic antics, I have to explain to him that his brother is no different than a hyper house pet.

“You just need to understand that when you play with Arlo, he might get so excited that he pees all over your shoe.”

Honestly, I’m not even sure Silas has ever played with a puppy. That would explain why he just stared at me and walked away when I offered the analogy.

We’re simply trying to achieve a modicum of harmony any way we can. At the moment, getting Arlo to pipe down is way more challenging than convincing his older brother that scratch marks are the price of membership to a loving household. Admittedly, I fear he might go to school and say, “My brother pinched my eyeball, but that’s ok, because he’s an animal and we’re a family.”

I can hear you:

“Discipline your child! What if he actually hurts his brother? Do you know how many germs are in saliva? What if he scratches the mailman? What’s next, are you going to let him drink whiskey and drive a tractor on the highway? You have to be stern and let him know you mean business! I’M WORRIED ABOUT YOU!”

I hear you, and thank-you. We’ve obviously tried, and continue to try various types of discipline, but in case you haven’t been around a 3-year-old boy in a while, they don’t really get the concept. Usually Arlo thinks we’re either abandoning him, playing some kind of game, or threatening to torch the iPad. Three year-olds have difficulty understanding threats or warnings because, to them, there’s no time between “now” and “always”. I know that because almost every night, Arlo says he’ll “Take bath tomorrow” and then conveniently forgets.

He’s in the moment and there’s no stopping him from seizing the bejeezus out of it. The best we can do is float along with his zen stream and realize that, occasionally, the canoe will flip over and we’ll all hit our heads on the jagged rocks. Kids aren’t wild horses…Actually, they’re pretty much exactly like wild horses, especially when you try to put a saddle on them. But I don’t think we should try to “break” them like we do wild horses. Not only because it’s frustrating and difficult for everyone involved, but also because I’m 40, and way too tired to break anything on purpose.

“You’re gonna pay for this later when he won’t listen to you!!!!! I’M AFRAID FOR YOU AND SOCIETY!”

The idea of that doesn’t bother me. I don’t listen to myself either, so maybe we’ll have that to bond over.

He’ll eventually learn to control the Spazzy Mcgillicutties. If he doesn’t, we’ll be sure to get him involved in wrestling, cheerleading or student government.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here http://bit.ly/1exfm34. Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

4 comments On Just Pretend He’s a Puppy

  • Oh my word this is the constant state of affairs in my house right now! lol Except my boys are 16months and 3.5. Soooo nice to know it doesn’t end any time soon! lol The little one is, well, he’s a baby and to top it off he is a determined, hard headed baby! The older one is a super sensitive passive little 3.5 year old dude (with all the insanity and irrationality that goes with that age!). So the constant cries of “ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow….” ring through the house as baby brother stands over big boy slapping him on the top of the head. Followed by me yelling “Dude! what on earth is going on?”(as if I don’t know!) “Brother is hitting me!” “Well make him stop for crying out loud!” Ok that is just what I want to say. Sometimes I do. Usually I try to be a little more constructive and say something like “remember brother is still learning. Tell him ‘no hitting’ and move his hand away. If he wont stop, ask me for help.” Later it is “Little brother wont stop kissing me.” then “I tried to kiss little brother goodnight and he hit me, why’d he hit me?” “Little brother keeps bothering me. go away go away!” “Hey little broooother, where did you go, why aren’t you playing with me?” or his favorite lately, a total meltdown because he doesn’t want brother to go in this room or that. He will stand trying to block the door way and when brother walks through, fall apart. He also spends so much time trying to stop him from doing things that truly aren’t allowed or scolding him or trying to drag him around. And always “stop touching me, don’t hit me, don’t bother me!” Good god child!! lol Sometimes I am so frustrated with them both and then other times, the 3 year old looks at me and says something like “when I was a baby I hit da kitties.” yep you did dude, but you learned to be gentle eventually” “yeah, you taught me mama and we teach brudder and he stop hitting me benchally too right?” ahhhhhhhhhh yeah buddy, that is exactly right. Wow, something actually sinks in now and then!!!

  • I have a 2.5 year old son (and two daughters) and his “energy” exhausts me. Reading this post and all the comments makes me feel like everything is going to be ok. Instead of disciplining him nonstop all day (which is no fun for anyone), perhaps it is best to just go with the flow and let him be his wild and crazy young self. Thank you!!

  • One of my earliest memories is running up to my father on a lazy Sunday afternoon, waking him from a nap, and telling him that my little brother had bitten me, AGAIN! He said, "Did you bite him back?" To which I responded meekly, "no." He promptly grabbed my brother's arm and CHOMP! I don't recall him biting me after that. Parenthood is war!

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