Do what I want or do what I really want
I’m on my way out to a picnic in Central Park on this glorious Sunday morning, and I plan to write a much more thorough post in response to this New Yorker article on overparenting that my friend Chris Wiggins sent me, but today I just wanted to impart one idea I’ve developed as a mother of three boys.
Namely, kids don’t ever want to do what you want them to do, especially when they’re tired, and it’s awful to feel helpless to get them to something without ridiculous, possibly empty threats, or something worse.
What to do?
My solution is pretty simple, and it works great, at least in my experience. Namely, if I’m getting no response from a reasonable request from my, say, 4-year-old, then I form a separate request which is easier for me and less good for them. And then I offer him a choice between doing what I want or doing what I really want.
Example: it’s bedtime (i.e. 7pm, which we will come back to in further post, which I’m considering calling “In defense of neglectful parenting”) and my kid doesn’t want to stop watching Star Wars Lego movies on Youtube. I’ve asked repeatedly for him to pause the movie so he can brush his teeth, get into his pajamas, and have me read his favorite bedtime story (currently: “Peter and the Shadow Thieves”).
Instead of screaming, picking him up and dragging him to the bathroom, which is increasingly difficult since he’s the size of a 6-year-old, I simply make him an offer:
Either you come brush your teeth right now and I read to you, or you come brush your teeth now and I don’t read to you, and you’ll have to go to bed without a bedtime story. I’m going to count to five and if you don’t come to the bathroom to brush your teeth when I get to “5” then no story.
Here’s the thing. It’s important that he knows I’m serious. I will actually not read to him if he doesn’t hurry up. To be fair, I only had to follow through with this exactly once for him to understand the seriousness of this kind of offer.
What I like about this is the avoidance of drama, empty threats, and physical coercion, or what’s just as annoying, a wasted evening of arguing with an exhausted child about “why there are bedtimes”, which happens so easily without a strategy in place.