Monday, March 12, 2012

Would You Brag About These Things?

Would you brag about beating your toddler in a game of chess? About beating your 7-year-old in a running race?

Would you brag about beating your 10-year-old at Scrabble? About making more money than your 14-year-old?

You're probably better at puzzles, too.

If you are like most people I know, you would probably say "No" to the above questions. If you answered "Yes" to any of them, you probably want to stop reading here.

I'm assuming most parents wouldn't brag about these things. Why not? Because it's pretty obvious why we might be better at these things than our children. We are bigger, stronger, more experienced with words and strategies and making money. The decks are stacked in our favor. Our kids have no chance against us in these and many other competitions.

Yet, I often hear parents bragging about winning over their children in other kinds of "battles," as if it makes any more sense than it would to brag about a chess victory over a three-year-old. I see parents patting themselves and each other on the back for proving how big and strong and powerful they are. Guess what, parents? Your kids already know you are more powerful than they are. This is a lesson that does not need to be taught. Your children are frequently reminded of how powerful you are, every time you do (or refuse to do) something for them that they cannot do for themselves.

If life is a game, then you have a choice as a parent. You can view your child as an opponent, with whom you are constantly in competition. You can focus on beating your child at the game, proving how much more powerful you are. You can make all the rules, add new ones all the time: eat three more bites before you can leave the table, stay in bed alone until you fall asleep, go to your room, only 30 minutes of TV today... You can use physical force or withholding of "privileges" or psychological manipulation to ensure that you will win.

When your child complains to you about the striking unfairness of the way the game is setup, you can ignore her. When she realizes you aren't listening she may complain to other people about how unfair the game is (how unfair you are). When you find out about this, you can take away or destroy her means of communication with others. You can take away her cell phone, shoot her laptop, forbid her from seeing her friends outside of school.

You can brag about ignoring your child's "tantrums" or getting him to eat something he didn't want to eat. You can brag about tricking your child, cheating at the game to get your way. You can call each of these things a "win" for you. If you do so, you will most likely get pats on the back from other parents. Just remember that as often as you are "winning," your child is losing. Even as you declare your victory, your child may be losing faith in you, losing interest in you. If this is the case, what exactly are you winning? Bragging rights? Are they worth that much?

Play. Together.
If you don't like the sound of that, rest assured, there is another option. You can view your child as a partner, a member of your team in this game. You can have fun together, without competing at all, without needing to declare winners and losers. You can make up the rules as you go along, together with your child. You can listen when your child has a problem with the way you are setting up the game, and figure out how to keep it fun for both of you. You can tend to your child's needs and be supportive of his food choices and other preferences.

If you choose this way, you will probably get the confused or nasty looks from other parents, the ones who are trying win as many battles as possible. They may call you crazy or weak. They may list for you all the ways in which they are winning. These parents have no idea what they are losing.


  1. Thank you for another great post!

  2. I have actually bragged about beating my son at chess.... >.> He's been kicking my butt at it for 2 years now (he started playing at 3). I finally won a game against him recently. So I was actually kind of proud. I called my mom, I told my husband when he got home. I did not gloat, I did not rub it in his face, but I was openly happy that I won. That being said, he's better at chess than I am, and he knows that. So I'm not sure it applies. Of course...I'm sure many parents refuse to play games that their kids are better than them at. :/

    I agree with the point though :D Love it!

  3. I've had other parents tell me "I've lost that battle" or, "I'm letting him get his way". Other parents do think I'm weak, and I'm sure they're patting themselves on the back when they see how I handle things, but at least I'm not stressing out and scaring the crap out of my child. I'd rather make compromises than "battle" my child or be a big meany and emotionally hurt him. As long as he's safe and not hurting anyone, most things are not that big of a deal.

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  5. I totally agree. Thank you especially for the metaphor with winning in chess etc. Might come in handy when I m afraid of being seen by others as a weak mother.

    Please, do continue with this blogging.

    Iva, Czech Republic