In the last post, which incidentally was a reblog, I was discussing some of the unfortunate parts of our having to parent in front of the audience of other parents, family, and random onlookers in any social situation. I was lamenting how the performance aspect tends to change our parenting for the worse. Today, I’d like to flip that audience coin over and talk some about working your home audience, and parenting in ways that work really well for kids — and yours in particular.
Some of you will no doubt think that this is the opposite of what parenting is supposed to be about. “No, no, no, parenting guy — what I want to know is how to get my kids to do what works for me!!” Well, here’s the thing — working with our kids, in the ways and means that work for them is the absolute best way to get them to work with us. Period. Still sound fishy? How about some examples…
In our home, when it’s time to go upstairs to brush teeth before reading stories and going to sleep — two parts of which (and by proxy, often the third, as well) are generally disdained by kids around the globe — our girls, in contrast, become almost manic to get to begin the process. This is simply and only because we’ve historically made teeth-brushing time a game. Bella taught me this by the time she was 2 1/2 — there was no way to get her to let me brush her teeth that didn’t involve humor at least. Then we happened to see the movie Shark’s Tale, and spent the next few years doing “whale wash” every night — which did sometimes involve voices and pretending to be removing fish bones… That spirit of pretend and play in the activity that we knew would otherwise likely be a bummer for each new kid allowed it to almost never be a bummer at all.
Did you notice how I said “almost never”? Well, here’s a truth — parents, even “Peter Pan” types as I’ve been accused of being, sometimes get tired of playing, we sometimes get sick of pretending, we’re sometimes so distracted by managing all the the backstage stuff that our home audience isn’t seeing (like dinner, and bills, and day-planning) that we can’t really get into our roles. Here’s another truth — sometimes kids still don’t feel like being interrupted and/or doing the less-loved tasks like teeth-brushing even if we make it fun. So we’ve had to continue to be creative, be empathetic — both to them and ourselves — and be flexible.
Sometimes a new game helps: Somehow in our home — I think because I didn’t want to begin the process of getting the kids ready for bed one night — one of the favorite versions of tooth-brushing play, now, is for me to pretend like I really don’t want to go, and the girls have to drag me pulling backward and complaining about it the whole way up the stairs. They love that one. And as I say, it was a game that developed because I was needing to be creative and find another way to play with them in order to suit my own feelings in the moment of not wanting to play!
Sometimes making space for the feelings involved helps more: When one of our girls crumples into an emotion-heap and it’s obvious that turning things into a game isn’t even about to be helpful, but we still want her to stop what she’s doing and go upstairs to brush teeth, then we empathize. Kids love being empathized with. It feels safe to them, and they then can express their feeling(s) fully in both communicative and psychological terms. Then they can move on. So, in the above example, we may refer to our Feeleez poster and ask her to point out the feelings she’s having, or hold her and tell her we how and why we understand her feelings. Then when there’s a shift in the feelings, we can quickly figure out how to approach the teeth again together.
Sometimes what works best is to bend until we find a place of agreement (which usually isn’t all that far…): Continuing with our teeth-brushing example — there’ve been times when one of the girls doesn’t want to brush teeth, and when we ask what she needs to be able to move on to teeth-brushing (instead of demanding compliance), we find there’s a simple matter that she needs to wrap up before she’s ready. And again, in the spirit of co-operation, if it seems reasonable — as in, “Can I just finish this one thing…” — we agree. If on the other hand, it doesn’t seem reasonable — as in, “I want to rebuild this castle and kingdom, first…” — and we say, “Um, that’ll take too long. Do you want to finish that instead of stories?” or some such counter-offer (“Do you want to do five minutes on it now then pause it until tomorrow?” or “Do you want to pick one part to do now…”, etc.), they are more likely to work with us to find agreement than if we just said, “No. Now if you don’t go upstairs you get no stories!”. I’d even bet, that because they know that we tend to work with them and because they feel co-operative with us, when we do have to say, “No, we really have to go upstairs now and start brushing teeth,” they are more likely to comply than those kids whose parents use that kind of answer as their default response.
With these three tools — play, empathy, and flexibility — we pretty much get everything we want done. And with panache! And what’s more, our participation audience loves it.
Here’s a few more play ideas — since I know lots of us parents suffer from play-atrophy and have lost some of our ability to think in terms of this vital skill…
- Make up any pretend scenario and let it guide your way in any task: “Ok, we’re aliens and we have to get through the grocery store and back to our ship before it explodes, but if we touch anything other than food we’re here for, we’ll throw up our brains…!” or “There’s faeries trapped in the post office, we have to send this package to free the faeries!”.
- Pretend you’re a machine or robot there to help them. Make sounds for your movements, and talk robotically — e.g. when washing their hair: “Please tilt your head back little human,” then, “Uurrrch, vroop, ree-er, ree-er, ree-er”.
- Sing a song about what you’re doing or want them to do. Extra points for but no need to rhyme!
- Pretend you don’t know how to do stuff and ask them to show you.
- For clean-up or other collection tasks — you can play that you’re going to eat all the stuff they need to pick up if the don’t get to it first.
- See how many blue things you can count together on your way… or while waiting to…
- Race the clock together in order to see how fast you can do what needs doing — i.e. getting ready to go, or getting ready for bed, etc..
- Pretend that getting dressed is really getting ready for the ball, or putting on a super-hero costume, or (as in our home right now) being Katniss and having Cinna get you dressed for the Hunger Games…
- Turn chores or tasks into “dangerous missions” or “valiant rescues” simply by laying out the story line — and let them run with it.
- Sometimes all kids need is a play tool to bring with, like a doll or spaceship or “spy” glasses…
- Also, if you need to, ask them. “Hey how can we make a game out of getting your coat on?” or “What’s a fun way to do this?” They usually have great ideas for how to turn anything into a game. Follow their lead to get them to follow yours.
That will hopefully be enough to get you started. Feel free to leave a comment or email me if you want help figuring out play-versions of some task(s) with which you regularly struggle to get your kids to cooperate. I’d be happy to suggest something!
Sincerely and honestly — have fun. Enjoy yourselves and your kids and the time you have together. By doing so you make co-operation easier for everyone.
For more on this, check out my inspiration for today’s post here.