My three year old daughter, The Princess, is a bit of a handful. We call her spirited. Her teachers said she’s intense. We recently heard her described as feisty. Exhausting is probably another good word to describe her. The Princess has a short temper, and it comes on fast and strong. I had hoped it was just a phase that all three year olds go through, but based on the input of friends and teachers and random strangers shooting me looks of disbelief, I’m starting to think otherwise.
At a birthday party we went to recently, I made a point of watching other parents react to her outbursts. Most of the time they just covered their faces so she wouldn’t see them laugh, sending looks of sympathy my way. A few of them looked at her as if she had just sprouted horns or something. I made a half-hearted effort to calm her down, mostly because I was embarrassed. Honestly, I’m getting tired of being the mom of that child.
Truth be told I’m not one to jump in and chastise her every time she explodes. If she’s not hurting any one, I hang back to see what happens. If a child takes a toy from her, I’m fine with letting her stand up for herself. Last Sunday I watched her press her teeny forehead up against the forehead of a seven year old boy and growl at him to leave her Lightening McQueen drill alone, and secretly I was a little bit proud. This is a girl who isn’t afraid of confrontation.
But so often it feels like I’m the one that she’s growling at, with her face pushed up stubbornly against mine. Getting her to do anything that she doesn’t want to do is next to impossible. It’s exhausting. I’m frustrated. I’m tired of pleading and threatening. I’m sick of counting to three in my best ‘mom voice’.
Then this week my husband showed me Playful Parenting in action, a technique which worked wonderfully for us in the past but I’ve gotten away from. The book Playful Parenting says that we need to engage our children using play, because that’s what they respond best to. If we need them to do something, make it into a game. Although it may seem like more work than simply barking out orders, it eliminates the drama and makes everything go more smoothly. In the end, a bit of imagination goes a long, long way. More importantly, it puts the fun back into parenting.
Case in point: this past week we’ve really been working on getting The Princess to go to sleep on her own, without someone (read: me) laying down with her. Its been going much better than I anticipated, but still takes an hour or so before she’ll actually settle down to sleep in bed. The other night I was particularly frustrated as The Princess got up for maybe the 15th time, and I told my husband to deal with it. He went into the room and he asked her what the matter was. She told him that she couldn’t sleep because the squirrels on the roof were having a party and they were keeping her awake. So he borrowed her flashlight and ‘went outside’, coming back a few minutes later to report. She was delighted at the thought of her daddy climbing up a ladder with the flashlight to have a chat with the rowdy squirrels on the roof, and she went to sleep almost immediately afterward.
I didn’t think to ask what was wrong. After an hour of repeated telling her to get back in bed, I just assumed that she was being difficult. And if she had told me that some imaginary rodent rave was keeping her up, I probably would have told her to quit the silliness and go to sleep. But my husband played along, and she was thrilled.
So today, when I brought her to school, I tried some playful parenting of my own. While she normally drags her feet as we walk to the school yard, I got her to laugh and run the whole way today by playing shadow tag. Instead of tears and pleas to go home, she happily tried to jump on my shadow’s head and then ran into the school yard without so much as a whimper. Score.
It’s settled – I want to ditch the ‘mom voice’ and save the counting for Hide and Go Seek. I think that will make our family life much more enjoyable. How about you? How do you make parenting fun?