"Either way this comes out, we're only going to have to do this once." Al Swearengen.
I have never had very much internal discipline. This statement will come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of me. One of the most daunting elements of raising a child for me was the question of how to instill within them the positive character qualities I myself lack. Self discipline - hell, discipline in GENERAL - being chief among these. (all my other character deficiencies haven't really bothered me much). I haven't' been through this with the little one, but I clearly remember the turning point in my discipline relationship with Isaac.
It was a brisk Rosh Hashanah afternoon. Isaac, then an only child, was napping peacefully in his crib. My wife had gone to her mothers to help get ready for the big family dinner and all I had to do was dress my two year old when he woke up and head out the door. Seems easy enough...
It was starting to get late and I decided I should wake up Ike to make sure we made it on time. He woke up ANGRY. I was able to change his diaper while he laid on the table screaming and crying, but the nice outfit was a different issue. He started squirming so hard he almost fell off the changing table, so I brought our fight to the floor.
"Isaac, you have to put your pants on." I said calmly
"NO!" He screamed back at me.
"Isaac, either you will put on your pants, or I will FORCE them on you."
"NOO!!" he replied.
Swiftly, I moved in, grabbed my screaming, naked child in one hand and the tiny, adorable corduroy pants in the other. While Isaac screamed and kicked, I grabbed one tiny ankle in my hand, hoisting him briefly like Achilles, and threaded his foot into the cords. I repeated the steps while he swung his arms at me wildly and screeched at the top of his tiny little lungs. With both legs in, I flipped him over. I wrapped one arm around his torso, immobilizing his flailing arms and started inching his pants up his legs and over his hips. I had to wrap my leg around his to keep it from kicking and flinging the pants off. All this action was set to the soundtrack of a child screaming in, what I like to call, pain-ger-steria. Eventually, I got the pants snapped and released my lock down of all his limbs. Immediately, he turned onto his back and fled from me in a panicked, reverse crab walk, reminiscent of Newt scurrying away from a face-hugger.
We took a pause - each eying up the other. I kept my mean ol' Dad face on, and I could read fear, terror and surprise in Isaacs face.
No dad ever wants to be the cause of fear, terror and surprise in their child's face, but what happened next made it all worth while. Slowly, and with Clint Eastwood-esque resolve, I said to my son, "Now, put on your shirt, or I will force you to put it on."
Isaac got up right away, walked over to the bed where his cute sweater and fake collar shirt was waiting and without fuss or argument, slipped it over his head. All the while maintaining eye contact with me.
Over three years later and the ultimatum of, "...or I will force you" remains INCREDIBLY effective. I have modified it slightly depending on the circumstances (i.e. "come along or I will CARRY you"), but it really only took that one encounter to establish that part of our relationship.