Parenting challenge #1: Let’s pretend

Playful Parent book cover
Today is the first day of a series of posts that will provide a bunch of small suggestions for effective discipline strategies, or parenting approaches, or whatever you wan to label them. Read more about the Parenting Challenge in this post. In short: The idea is that we can all use a few more strategies to try out in our most trying situations with our kids. None of these strategies is meant to stand alone as THE. ONE. BEST. WAY. TO. DEAL. WITH. YOUR. KID. I'll put a new challenge up every Monday and you all can come back to the comment sections with feedback about what happened when you tried it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can all learn so much from each other: we have kids of different ages, with different temperaments, we OURSELVES very different personalities (with varying experiences of being parented that have shaped those personalities), we come with different parenting philosophies, varying family structures (married, single parenting, grandparents around, siblings in the picture, etc.). I'm willing to bet that all the strategies I put out here will vary in effectiveness with all those differences.

I'm going to try not to write pages and pages about the philosophy behind this or any other technique on Monday — I want to simply put the idea out there. For the rest of the week, I'll try to provide you with some background and research (when there is some) on the strategy, interspersed with OTHER topics, so you guys don't die of boredom from this one theme. 

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, comes from excerpts from Playful Parenting. It's SO simple and yet I find it so difficult to implement if I'm in a crabby mood, generally stressed or I'm sleep-deprived (usually they coincide). The idea is to take any discipline challenge or conflict type that seems to recur and turn it into a game of imaginary play. Remember the words: LET'S PRETEND. And when you least want to do it, when you most want to put your foot down and insist that she JUST LISTEN to you… stop, breathe in, and say OUT LOUD "Let's Pretend." Say it as cheerfully, loudly, and animatedly (that's not a word, I'm guessing). This is one of those instances when you'll probably be faking it until you really mean it. With this "LET'S PRETEND…" introduction, most post 3 year-olds will stop in their tracks and you'll have them watching you for more instructions. Now here's the part that can take some practice. "Let's pretend…" what? You've got to come up with something that will pull a child into complying with your wishes without him realizing that that's actually what you're doing. But the mere act of pretending, WITH YOU ESPECIALLY, changes any power struggle into a fun way to connect and collaborate. It can work miracles. (There's a good reason why generations after generations have used the "here comes the airplane/train/car, open the station!" to get kids to eat a few more bites). Here are just a few examples:

  • If your child doesn't want to get dressed in the morning: "Let's pretend that our clothes give us super powers! Once you put on your pants and shirt, what superhero will you be? MY clothes make me SUPER STRONG, maybe yours will make you invisible/able to fly/etc."
  • If your child doesn't want to switch off the t.v.: "Let's pretend that [enter whatever character she's been watching on tv] is down the hall and wants to play with us. Who do you want to be [in the tv show]? I'm going to be [enter character]." 
  • If you need 10 more min to get ready in the morning/to finish a conversation on the phone/etc.: "Let's pretend that I'm the queen who is coming to visit your castle for a feast. You're the King who has to get all your animals ready, cleaned, dressed, and at the table ready for my inspection! The Queen will be in your room in 10 mind… QUICK! Prepare for the feast!" 

Seriously, there's way too many examples to list. I JUST used this strategy a second ago, to buy myself 10 more editing minutes with this post. I told my boys: "Let's pretend that I'm Sir Toppenhat [dear god are you ever lucky if you don't know who that is] and that I will be coming to your train station. The trains need to be all cleaned and in their right order for the big race today!" Off they went to assemble the trains for the big race. Guaranteed that if I had told them to go play so that I can finish my work they would (a) have never left or (b) if they had, they would have been back in 30 sec asking if I'm ready to play. But providing them a REASON that I HAVE TO stay away for a few minutes worked. In fact, they just called back to me: "Don't come in yet, Sir Toppenhat! We're still working on the track!"

Some considerations:

  • Kids much younger than 2.5 years old may not be as into the pretend stuff. There are lots of reasons that pretend play usually starts after that age (I'll spare you that review for another time). With younger kids, you can just ACT OUT whatever pretend scenario you want, without having to tell them to "pretend." (So, act like the big monster that will eat their food up for them if they don't eat it first; Pick up your child and fly him around the hall once he FINALLY gets his "super flying boots" on, etc.)
  • Some kids are less inclined to pretend play than others. No big reasons, just some are more fantasy-oriented than others (just like some kids like to play with numbers and letters and others are bored stiff with that stuff early on). Most kids WILL get into it with you, if you "practice" these pretend scenarios with them.
  • The older the child is, the more I would try to enlist them to make up scenarios with you. 
  • It's a good idea to come up with a few of these pretend scenarios BEFORE a conflict or power struggle arises. In the throes of these conflicts, we're often angry, frustrated and exhausted, not the best context for coming up with magical situations to play out. If you have a few pretend situations that you know will peak your child's interest, think of how they could apply in all sorts of conflict situations.

This will be a great challenge to get your input in the comments section because some of us are more challenged in the fantasy make-up stuff than others (I count myself as one of the less "naturally" imaginative… but I'm learning). Give it a try and tell us: How did it go? What did you come up with? If it didn't work so well, why? If it DID work, what was so effective? Any new insights, thoughts, concerns that come up because of this exercise for you?

Edited to Add: CLEARLY I needed more than 10 more min to edit this post properly…

44 thoughts on “Parenting challenge #1: Let’s pretend

  1. I was having trouble getting my kid to get dressed and brush teeth and go downstairs and tried Let’s Pretend! there is a circus downstairs and we are the main event! She didn’t want to pretend, but I could see a little bit of curiosity in her eyes, so maybe next time she will be ready to play. I’m not ready to give up yet!

  2. My son is 13 months, so this isn’t as applicable to him. But, I was watching my niece, who is 3, a few weeks ago. She didn’t want to brush her teeth. So, I pretended I was a plaque monster coming to get her. I told her that plaque monsters will eat all of her before bed snacks if she didn’t brush her teeth and the only way to get rid of them was to brush her teeth. I didn’t say ‘let’s pretend’, but it worked like a charm. Next time, I’ll try the ‘let’s pretend’ and see what she comes up with as well.

  3. My 22 month old isn’t quite ready for “pretending” but we do the junior version of this. She actually LIKES to be tickled, and paradoxically, this makes tickling a wonderful threat-that-isn’t. It doesn’t really produce instant unquestioning obedience, but it breaks off the escalating battle of wills before it really gets started. So: “If you don’t brush your teeth, the tickle monsters will come get you!” Does not scare her into brushing teeth, but sends her running into my arms giggling, ready to be tickled. Then we can move on to getting teeth brushed with a lot less difficulty. And when she doesn’t want me to feed her something messy because she’d rather hold the spoon (and make a mess) herself, it sometimes works to pretend the spoon is an airplane.

  4. Our older child just turned four, and is really big on pretend-play. He likes to be the mean monster (as opposed to the hugging monster), or the chef-guy, or show off his magic powers. And he is the dawdliest little boy on earth. So I will give this a shot – the circus idea sounds like fun. My husband is willing to try, so I will keep you posted!

  5. Oh my God, this actually worked! I had literally just finished reading the post when my 3-yr-old came in to report/brag about the poo in the toilet.
    He hates hates hates washing his hands. So I said, “Let’s pretend there are some giant monsters with enormous teeth that like to eat the germs of our hands, especially after we’ve been to the toilet. Quick, let’s go wash them off before they get us!”
    Okay, so it sounds a bit lame but it worked! He was all excited and we raced to the bathroom and he was keen to get to the sink before me.
    Hopefully I haven’t created new characters for his nightmares, but eh, we’ll deal with that later.

  6. We use a version of this to get our little guy (2 years old) to let us brush his teeth without him screaming like we’re trying to kill him (what is it about teeth brushing and toddlers?!). We talk about needing to find everything he ate that day, which is hiding in his mouth, and then we ask him about the different “people” hiding in his teeth (usually it’s Thomas & Friends, or the characters from Lightning McQueen) and then we go find them with the toothbrush. We ask if they are on the top or the bottom and he thinks it’s funny to direct us to where they are hiding in his mouth. Hadn’t thought much about it, just stumbled on it and when it worked, we went with it. But now that I read this post, I realize it’s exactly what we’re doing and it works really well for us!

  7. I love the ideas. It was a lightbulb moment with my (now 9 year old) boy who HATED to brush his teeth, telling him he had TEETH BUGS and they were going to eat his teeth if we didn’t get rid of them really fast. For a long time after he started brushing his teeth, we could tell him, “oh yes, i still see teeth bugs” so that he would let “mommy get them”.

  8. I thought this idea would work like a charm because my 2.5 year old loves to pretend. In fact, today when I tried to get her to pretend that the fabric my friend was talking about sewing into curtains for me was a river she had to stay out of if she wanted to stay with us it resulted in her whining and saying things like: “I don’t want to pretend.” and “I don’t want to stay with Debbie.” Maybe my scenario was not good enough or maybe my kid only likes to pretend when it means she gets to be in charge. I’ll try it a couple more times, but so far I think other techniques might work better for us.

  9. I just got this book 2 days ago after you had recommended it, but I have already been using this kind of strategy with my daughter. Around a year or so she became very defiant about diaper changes and I tried lots of different strategies to gain her cooperation, but really the only things that work are singing silly songs to her during the change or tickling her silly before I start, so she’s in a good mood and doesn’t get as upset. Playful parenting! I love it.

  10. I don’t know if this qualifies as pretend, but I did get the idea from the book a while back. When my son was about 10 months old he would always cry when I wiped his face after eating. In the book I read about putting yourself in the child’s shoes, so I gave him the wipe and had him wipe my face while I would blubber and cry and say “no, no”. He would giggle but he no longer cries when I wipe his face. I was amazed at how quickly the strategy worked. At 19 months, he’s still trying to wipe my face and giggles when I “cry”, but I love hearing the giggles.

  11. Woo hooo! Worked like a dream this morning!
    I read this book a while back and have implemented some techniques from it before. But I don’t think I do the actual “Let’s pretend…” much.
    So this morning, instead of having a battle (again) over washing hands (and many other aspects of getting ready), this post popped in my head. Instead of getting frustrated, I thought about it for a minute and came up with a good “Let’s pretend” scenario. I said to my girl, “Let’s pretend we are monsters and we’ve stuck our paws in some mud and need to wash it off.”
    At first, she started saying she didn’t want to and whining a bit, but then I held up my “paws” and dipped them in “mud” and made a funny face, saying “Ew! My monster paws are so muddy! I better wash them off!”
    She giggled and followed suit. We then had to brush our dirty monster teeth while making monster faces and then wash our monster faces. When it came to dressing, I needed a variation and said that our “monster clothes” would give us “super monster strength.” And that worked too!!! When we were finally leaving the house, we put on her “monster shoes” which let her walk on anything, including air! So I lifted her up and she “walked on air” to the car.
    When we got to her pre-school and I was getting her out of her car seat, I said to her, “I had such fun pretending to be a monster with you this morning.” What a difference between that and the morning last week when I had to listen to her have a melt down because I washed her hands, and I later yelled at her.

  12. At 19 months we’re not quite ready for the pretend stuff, but I have recently made a conscious decision to be more playful to get through some potentially bad episodes. Much more receptive to mommy acting like a goof-ball than mommy acting like a drill sergeant.

  13. Worked twice! Once we pretended Zoe was Sally and I was Lightning McQueen and we were racing to pick up Noah from Kinder. She ran all the way ( until she fell over an scraped her knee, but at least she wasn’t in the pusher for a change).
    Then we pretended that Zoe was Cinderella and I was the Fairy God Mother and she actually let me put her hair in pig tails!!
    What an achievement. Thanks Isabela.

  14. K is 8 months and so playing pretend isn’t quite there yet but it’s helpful to me so I don’t get upset at the situation.
    Plus I still remember my Mom doing this with my sister and me when we were younger and taking too long to get dressed in the morning. She made it into a race to see who could get ready the fastest, complete with everyone having a theme song to sing along the way. It got us motivated and we loved it as we had to go check on her progress every once in a while to be sure we were beating her. Poor woman though! She says now that we took forever and she had to stand waiting in her nylons for us to hurry up! I might just get this book. It sounds like my kind of parenting style.

  15. This worked well with my 3 year old girl to get her dressed this morning. She didn’t want to get dressed so I said “Let’s pretend we’re princesses getting ready for our ball.” It worked while I got her dressed, but when I wanted to do her hair – she “out pretended” me by saying her hair was already ready for the ball with a beautiful tiara and flowers. So fell back on my old tricks (“the school doesn’t let un-brushed hair into school”) to get her hair done.

  16. What a great start! I love hearing about all of you who have already been implementing this type of approach. And it’s SO great to hear the success stories.
    @anon: thanks for sharing your challenges as well. I think it’s great to hear from the people that it ISN’T working from just as much as from those for whom it is. I don’t think this approach “clicks” with all kids and parents right away. But I’d encourage you not to give up, especially if your child DOES like pretend play other times. Maybe you COULD let her lead a little more in these scenarios?

  17. We pretended that yesterday morning King Poop had to be allowed to go visit his Poop family down the toilet…otherwise I was going to be nervous the whole a.m. b/c my girl hadn’t taken her normal morning BM. Worked like a charm; just in time too, b/c I was ready to just be the nagging, exhausted parent after a long night…thank you!! And who would have ever thought I would be writing about bowel movements, wow : )

  18. @Anna: that’s HYSTERICAL and disturbing all at the same time for me. My husband is constantly telling poop stories when one of our sons is having “issues.” WOrks, but I can’t stand to listen. I guess you get the idea of how NOT able I am to go there with poop. That was even hard for me to write. Freud would have a field day with me…

  19. I was expecting this to work really well with my daughter, who will be 3 in April. She’s super verbal, and very much into pretending.
    But it flopped when I tried it last night. I think the problem was that my pretend scenario was lame. Her little eyes lit up when I said “Let’s Pretend…” but my lame attempt at a Dora the Explorer pretend game around getting out of the bath didn’t work.
    I’ll try again tomorrow, with a little more forethought on the scenario.

  20. I know this isn’t your intention, but stories of “lame” first attempts at pretend scenarios are making me feel MUCH better. My first attempts were responded to, literally, with blank stares. (And when there’s two of them, you KNOW it’s not just the kid’s problem).

  21. Bedtime is always a battle for us. I say, “Time for bed” and my son starts the whining and crying. Often I just pick him up and carry him in when the arguing gets too bad. But last night, I said “Okay it’s time for bed. LET’S PRETEND….” and his eyes just lit up. It was totally lame too – the only thing I could come up with was that we pretend to be airplanes and fly as fast as we could into his room. His response was to add onto the scenario (he’s 4.5) and he said “Okay okay. Wait. This is how we have to do it.” and he proceeded to fly and crash into his bed with me behind him. It was great. I also have trouble getting him to eat. Anything. So this morning I said “Let’s pretend that our pancakes are magic pancakes that turn us into tigers. Then when we’re done being tigers, we can eat our magic yogurt and turn back into people again.” He was completely on board AGAIN. I have to say I use this a lot but without the “let’s pretend” preface, which completely turns things around for him and engages him immediately.
    Can’t use it too much though – I don’t want it to stop working! I can’t wait for next weeks strategy!

  22. Thank you for sharing this little gem with me. Yesterday morning my 3 year old asked when can we go to the beach. (We don’t live near the sea, at all.) That evening he was riding his bike and didn’t want to come in to bath and I remembered reading your post that day and said let’s pretend we’re going on holiday to the beach and the bath is the sea. He loved it, he had so much fun and it developed into a whole string of more pretending like being a fish, a shark and a pirate. Fantastic tip/tool! Five stars from me.

  23. @Anna: Hehe, we were pretending that the master chef was making poop soup on the toilet yesterday. The day before that the little tiny poop baby needed a momma poop to keep him company… Constipation can really bring out the funniest stories.

  24. This worked great with my 32-month old.
    First, he wanted to have a picnic in our blanket fort, but then wouldn’t eat. I said “let’s pretend we’re bear cubs who have to eat a lot of food before we hiberate!” (We’d just seen something similar on Curious George.) He ate a ton!! And did a lot of growing and laughing too :)
    Then, I wanted to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and he didn’t, so I said, let’s pretend our friends the ants are coming for lunch and they want a cookie. He gladly helped me make the cookies then. Yes, I had to manipulate my 2.5 year old into making cookies. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

  25. @Mary — Thanks for the great suggestion. My nine month old HATES to have his face washed after eating. Today I let him “wash” my face and he was all giggles during the clean up process. At first I needed to help him wash my face but he got the hang of it very quickly.

  26. Just tried it this evening… I suggested putting on his pajamas so he could be Spiderman. (He preferred to roll around on the bed naked.) He said, “No. I be Jango Fett.” Initially, he said that Jango Fett didn’t wear those pajamas, but he eventually decided the pajamas were Jango Fett’s uniform and things moved along pretty well.

  27. OK, things went better tonight. We got through the treacherous end of bath routine without a tantrum.
    First, we pretended she was a frog who had to get out of the pond onto her lily pad. Then she was a snake shedding her skin (drying off). Then she was Dora putting on her snowsuit (pajamas) to go see Santa (don’t ask… yes, I know some Dora episodes by heart). Finally, I stole someone’s idea from these comments and pretended that she had plaque monsters on her teeth that we needed to brush off.
    Phew. This is hard work… but better than tantrums!

  28. OK, it wasn’t exactly ‘let’s pretend’, but the past two nights I’ve managed to get my boys (almost 3) to put their PJs on without any nagging. I basically narrate what they’re doing like I’m a crazy sports broadcaster “OK, J’s got one leg on, he’s working on the second. Oh! And N’s looking for the big hole.. can he find it? J’s got his bottoms on!! N’s head is poking through.. there it is!”. They get really into it, and are cracking up. They don’t watch TV or movies or even listen to sports on the radio, so I don’t think they really ‘get it’, but somehow this is working. Also, I try not to make it a competition, which I’ve heard can backfire with siblings.
    Now if only I could get them to fall calm down and go to sleep (I just tried ‘let’s pretend penguin has really sensitive ears and needs you to be quiet”- this had no effect, sadly).

  29. I tried pretend this morning without having any examples yet and wow I am so lame. The best I could come up with out of fear of planting an idea I couldn’t make come true was to check and see if his clothes were sleeping or awake – that got us off the couch and back in his room to look at his clothes but didn’t get them on. I resorted to a bribe. 4 mnms are the magic bullet lately but I’d prefer getting cooperation some other way.

  30. Oh, Zoe has walked (well, raced really)a full two days in a row to kinder now. And I don’t even have to reminder her that she is Sally ( the porsche in Lightning MacQueen). I have also had success getting her to blow Lightning and Sally out of the cave ( blow her nose), and even the 5 year old who isn’t much of a nose blower is all gung ho about it too.
    Am loving all this ‘let’s pretend’ bizo, but would love to find something that works equally well that is not LIGHTNING McQUEEN!!!

  31. This morning, I was just at the end of my rope as she tried to run into the snow instead of heading to the car AGAIN after I just told her not to! I picked her up and started walking her to the car, and she was just about to start yelling her objections, when I remembered…
    “Let’s pretend…” I said, getting her attention. I quickly tried to come up with something, anything, that would be fun. I said the first thing I could think of, hoping it wouldn’t be deemed lame, “… that you are a sack of potato! And I need to toss you into the car!”
    Thank goodness, it worked. She thought it was funny to be a sack of potatoes, and I strapped the sack of potatoes into the carseat and we were off.
    Whew! This is getting easier for both of us as we practice more!

  32. @zed – I love the idea of a sports broadcaster. My friend does the sports broadcaster while her daughter goes through an obstacle course, and she loves it. I’ll suggest that she uses that to get her dressed and ready for bed. I will try it out, too!

  33. @mom2boys and others: Some people have asked for some pretend situations for getting out of PJs and into clothes. Since this is one of my biggest battles with one of my kids, I can tell you a few things I’ve tried, that work to varying degrees, depending on the day:
    - I offer the coziest, mushiest sweatshirt and pants and say, “let’s pretend you’re going to be the mushiest, coziest bear all day today. THOSE PJs aren’t fuzzy enough! Do you think THIS shirt is a bear shirt?” (he has a thing with being cozy… ALL. THE. TIME.
    - If they’re running around like banshees, naked, not wanting to get dressed, I open the window a bit (it’s like the freaking tundra right now where I live… brrrrr) and say, “Oh no! It’s the coldest day in the whole wide world! YEAH! We can toboggan in the house! Let’s pretend we’re going to go tobogganing down the stairs… but first we have to get our warmest clothes on QUICK!” (opening the window helps them feel the cold on their naked little bodies and motivates them to get warm, then I get on my bum and go down the stairs with them on their bums: tobogganing in the house!).
    - “Let’s pretend it’s duck/bear/frog day! What do you think a frog would wear? Would he wear a purple shirt? NO! A black shirt? NO!” And then they provide the answer: The frog would wear a GREEN shirt! Let’s get that frog shirt on!” Somehow this brings them into a game early on, so that they’ve already committed in some way to put in on after they’ve agreed it’s frog day (we do it with bear day and brown pants, socks, etc.).
    @zed: I do races all the time with my twin boys, but instead of making them competitive, I make them cooperative. The easiest way is to count. So I say let’s see how many seconds it will take you BOTH to get dressed. And I count until BOTH are done. And then I say you guys did it in only 30 seconds (or some such dream number)!
    @caramama: it really DOES get easier.
    @paola: I maintain, better ANY character than Thomas… But you COULD try Thomas/Molly if she’s into them. Trains go fast, don’t they? Actually, I wouldn’t mess with anything that’s working so well!

  34. Just checking back in today – it worked, three days in a row!
    As I said in my original comment, the 4 year old boy is a champion dawdler in the morning. So Tuesday, when he is dawdling getting dressed, I say, “Let’s pretend that whoever gets dressed first gets to play with the elephant that comes to our house!” (I ‘raced’ him. Just racing doesn’t make him move) He quickly got dressed, and then giggled madly at his father being the elephant. Wednesday, we are at the doctor for both kids, and while the baby is getting seen, the kid is very noisy. So we say, “Let’s pretend you are a pilot of an airplane. Where are we going?” (he sat still instead of getting in the nurses’ way) Today, he was dawdling again, so we said, “Let’s pretend the one who gets dressed first is superman!” with a race against the baby.
    We need to move away from the whole race/pretend thing, but so far so good. Count me in on future challenges!

  35. Okay, I’m curious. Had anyone been “busted” for using this technique – had the kid say “no way, you’re just saying let’s pretend so you can make me do (fill in the blank)”???
    I figure that’s bound to happen at some point, maybe when they’re 5 or 6?

  36. @Irene: Yeah, good question. As they get older, they’re more likely to start questioning your intentions (which is SUCH a cool cognitive acquisition that comes around 5-6 years old — called “metacognition,” or thinking about thinking; thinking about HOW people make decisions and why, etc.). But even with the younger set, I find you have to keep changing it up. I don’t ALWAYS use the terms “let’s pretend”, for example, because I figure that’ll start getting old too quickly. Sometimes I just start acting like the monster who will gobble up their food if they don’t eat it, rather than declaring “let’s pretend I’m a monster…” I find that the “let’s pretend” line is a good way to help ME remember and get into the mode, as much as it is a trigger for my kids that we’re going to be playing a game.
    But also, the idea of “playful parenting” in general is that it really IS a game and you really ARE having fun WITH them. Yes, it’s sneaky, but it also should be genuinely fun most times. Otherwise, if we’re faking it all the time, these smart little critters will surely see right through us.

  37. I am listening to puppy Frances bark her head off this very minute. It’s my job to be terrified of the barking, then she tells me that she’s only excited, she’s not trying to scare me, and I melt in relief, and then she gives me a big lick and I have to be grossed out by dog germs. I’m not quite sure where this came from or what deep-seated need we’re addressing but we do it OVER and OVER again.
    This week getting her ready for bed when she didn’t want to go upstairs, I asked her what kind of baby animal she wanted to be.
    Frances: A baby jaguar … like on Diego!
    me: oooh–can I be a mommy jaguar?
    Frances: Yes!
    me: ok, baby jaguar. Let’s pretend your room is the jungle …
    F: NO! It’s my CAVE!
    me: ok, it’s your cave, and we have to get there fast …
    F: Because the lions want to eat us.
    me: Exactly! the lions want to eat us, and we’ll be safe in the cave once we get your magic pyjamas on … because they make us invisible!
    She got into her pyjamas in record time. It worked.
    But at what point does this become ineffective or counter-productive? I certainly don’t want to have to do this when she’s in highschool and needs to finish an essay for history class (“Let’s pretend this is a top-secret letter that will get your boyfriend out of jail where he’s being held by a wizard!“)
    Is this a transition that comes of its own accordÉ (and why do my question marks suddenly look like capital e`s with accents on themÉ) (I love technology.) How do you encourage kids to have the discipline to do things that they don`t want to doÉ

  38. After a week of trying the “let’s pretend” approach with our 2 year old, I think the verdict is that saying the “let’s pretend” part isn’t very useful, but jumping right into pretending (without expressly saying that’s what we’re doing) works very well.
    For example, when he wasn’t interested in dinner the other night, instead of telling him we were going to pretend I just lined up his broccoli and told him the little “broccoli trees” were actually people he knew, and named them. Then I said “you better not eat Auntie and Mommy and Daddy” and he caught on right away to the game, and starting biting our heads off while we said “Oh no, please don’t bite off my head! Please don’t bite off Auntie’s head!” and so on. Couldn’t believe how well it worked! I think he might be too young to get the directed approach with “let’s pretend”, but he’s definitely receptive to just doing the pretending and making a game of things.

  39. I would love to know if anyone has had success with being playful with a younger child (who obviously doesn’t get the let’s pretend stuff yet.) Basically we are dealing with my 15-month-old’s increasing aggression. Key examples are hitting and pulling hair. And of course if I say gently to him, “Let’s be gentle with each other,” he will bear his teeth at me and swat me in defiance. He does it more with me than with his father. I can tell it’s clearly one of those boundary-testing things, but it’s also clear that my telling the munchkin to not do it is not really helping. If I tell him not to do something, he goes and does it – immediately. Prime example is “bathwater is not for drinking.” I even try to avoid the word “don’t”, but he still goes and does it immediately. (The only reason we don’t want him drinking bath water is because we have to put liquid paraffin in the water to help treat his eczema, and I’m just not sure if it’s safe to drink the water with the paraffin in it.)
    (Isabela – your notes about how aggression is actually innate is so true. We don’t have a TV and neither my husband nor I are aggressive at all so there is NO social influence towards aggression in our house, except maybe at day care where my son is one of the eldest and is surrounded by babies who are just crawling.)

  40. @Bonnie: You’ve probably already been given this advice, but I’ll throw it out, just in case: Try telling him what TO DO, instead of what NOT to do. So, instead of “Don’t hit”, say “Can you pat mummy’s arm like this? [and show him the gentle move]” Or… “Come bang this drum with me!” But honestly? Most of what you have to do is keep giving him tons of alternatives and repeating your plea to not do whatever (drink poisonous bathwater, hit you). The other thing you can try is simply walking away from him. Give him NO ATTENTION when he does something like hit or pull hair. Walk away. Then come back 2 min later, repeat the “no hitting/pulling hair” and play with him with lots of smiles, etc. When he tries it again, immediately walk away again. Your attention is gold to him and so he may start getting it: aggression means no mommy; no aggression, lets of happy mommy. Don’t give up… it WILL stick if you don’t tolerate the aggression. But it’s a tough stage, isn’t it? And the pretend stuff IS much harder at that younger age.

  41. I think our son caught on too well. Friday, when we told him to get dressed, he said, “Let’s pretend these clothes will make a tiger!”
    And then proceeded to dawdle even slower…sigh

  42. I thought my little girl was too young for this to work on: she just turned two and has just barely started to grasp the idea of pretending and initiate pretend play herself. But! If I say “Let’s Pretend” she suddenly looks up at me with great interest, waiting to hear what I say next! And throws herself wholeheartedly into any suggestion I then make, no matter how lame. Let’s pretend that after you put on your caterpillar diaper, you turn into a caterpillar! And then you sit in your caterpillar chair and eat caterpillar food. Let’s pretend that when we get out of the shower and wrap ourselves in towels, we’re Bedouins (which she has of course never heard of, but wants to be any way) and the bed is our camel!
    I think I may be overusing it and it may stop working soon. Also, let’s pretend we’re sleeping cats does not get her to lie quietly in the bed. So I have yet to come up with a solution to the night-time shrieking.

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