Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parenting Hacks or Failures?

I think the worst day of my parenting journey so far was the day Everett discovered he had a mind of his own. Suddenly, that trusting little nugget no longer opened his mouth for every spoonful of dinner I shoveled in there, and he began to show a keen sense of discernment: "Nope, that spoon has green s*** on it. Not eating!" To top it all off, the tantrums - featuring public screaming, hitting, kicking, hair pulling, and flailing - began soon after this.

There are a few remedies to the opinionated toddler syndrome, the easiest of which is to make waffles for dinner every night. I'm completely unwilling to stoop to this level, even though I LOVE waffles, but have found other great methods of toddler mind control: BRIBERY.

Unfortunately for me, that French parenting book I read would define me as the typical backbone-less American parent for resorting to this. Children should be well behaved because you tell them so! Says France. But we tried this...and it's not really true, and it makes Everett cry real tears of sadness when we are French to him. However, Jeff and I have developed some tried and true methods of bribery for dealing with an opinionated toddler. Some of our methods have evolved, some of them Everett has outgrown, and we have yet to discover and perfect a few new techniques (suggestions welcome). However, the following concept has followed us through toddlerhood thus far.

Step 1: Find out what makes your child tick. Hopefully it's not candy.

Let's start basic. The key to successful toddler mind control is your basic bribery. There are objects around each toddler's house that are off limits and/or incredibly enticing (warning: please make sure they are safe objects, ie not a knife). For Everett, these objects are the following: the remote control, my keys, the fans, the cat, Trader Joe's freeze-dried Blueberries, and anything with wheels. Find out what makes your child tick because in times of desperation these objects will be used as bait. If candy is the only thing that works for your kiddo, maybe it's time to consider a change in family diet. If you have to buy your kid a new toy every time there is a tantrum, consider reading more parenting books.

Step 2: Use these objects to bribe your child into doing what you want?

Let's look at a successful bribing scenario:

Toddler refuses to get in car seat. 
Toddler is kicking and screaming in front of many people.
Mom tries to reason with toddler without success. (What do the French know anyway?)
Finally Mom asks, "Everett, would you like to hold my keys for me?"
Mom hands toddler keys. Toddler sits quietly while playing with Mom's keys.
Mom buckles toddler into seat successfully. 

Now here comes the transition, where taking the keys away can cause another tantrum. This is where it's important to have multiple bribing relics. I can now hand Everett a toy tractor to pull his attention away from the keys, or I hand him an old remote we never use, and we are all on our merry way.

And then there are the scenarios where even the 'ole key trick doesn't work. This is usually when Everett skips a nap or isn't feeling well. Everett had his first public meltdown in Trader Joe's (after skipping a nap). I knew there was only one thing I could do...head to the freeze-dried blueberries and let him tear into a bag while I finished shopping (hey at least it wasn't candy!).

The result? No more screaming. BUT spoiling-your-child karma caught up with me. He was yelling "BOOBIES! BOOOOOBIIIIES!" at the top of his lungs the entire time we were at the store. I had to keep loudly responding, "Yes, that's right! Yummy BLUEBERRIES!" so the population of Spokane wouldn't judge me too harshly.

Post-tantrum blueberry face.

Your kid isn't eating veggies? Weird! Not really, but we have won a few veggie battles by using a few of these bribing/tricking methods:

  • Blending them into smoothies. Kale and spinach taste great in a healthy smoothie. We use plain yogurt as a base, then add fruits, veggies, and a little bit of juice from there.
  • Experimenting with textures and temperatures. For example, Everett will not eat carrots, squash, or potatoes unless they are pureed. Put pureed veggies into one of these and you've got a winner! 
  • With young babies, alternating something they love with something that is healthy is a great trick. Everett's too old for that now, but we shoved a lot of broccoli down his throat between applesauce bites for a few months of blissfully easy feeding. 
  • Making better recipes. Let's be real here...would you eat that? (P.S. I always eat what I feed Everett to make sure it tastes normal.)
  • Turning on his favorite music (currently Elmo's "Brushy Brush" song) only while he is taking bites of his veggies.

For toddlers/babies too young to understand the you-didn't-eat-your-vegetables-so-you-will-go-straight-to-bed concept, one of the above tricks can be a good solution (as opposed to child abuse or starvation).

My boy eating his veggies and listening to Elmo songs.

Step 3: Be patient and let them make choices.

In our experience, every phase of naughtiness is a test. And every child at this phase values her/his autonomy. The child is trying to discover his/her boundaries, and he/she needs the parent's intervention to draw reign - someone needs to teach this little human how to interact in society. Because of this delicate balance, we try not to reinforce bad behaviors by rewarding them, but by giving him a little autonomy when it comes to bribing.

Battle with getting child IN car seat has been won.
Now child doesn't want to get OUT of car seat. 
WTF? (be patient..)
"Everett, it's time to go inside."
"Do you want to go inside and play with Willow?"
"Ok! Let's go play with Willow!"
Toddler is removed from car successfully!

By giving Everett choices, we are able to get him to do things with fewer tantrums. The key is finding a way to convince him that what we want is what he wants to. This usually involves telling him the cat will be involved...

Our biggest challenge so far has been the runaway toddler. Having a child bolt into the middle of the street is not okay, so as his parents it is important for us to intervene in these behaviors. For everyone's sanity. 

Everett had to learn that if he doesn't want to be in the stroller, he needs to walk next to the stroller; if he doesn't walk next to the stroller, he goes back in the stroller and we have to deal with an upset toddler for a few seconds. When he's ready to try again, we let him out on a trial basis, but he goes straight back into the stroller if he doesn't follow the rules. During particularly challenging lessons, we might say something like this, "Should we try to find a kitty cat? Yes? Well, we have to keep walking with the stroller then." Giving him a task of looking for cats keeps him stimulated, focused on a goal, and interested in something as boring as a family walk. This method prolongs our walks, but at least we can go for family walks now that boundaries have been established.

Step 4: Your child is now an angel. KIDDING! Joke's on you because kids are assholes!

Clearly, no child is perfect. No matter how hard we try to corral our babies, their brains will (hopefully) continue to develop, and they will become even more independent as time goes on. The day Everett tells me he no longer wants to wear moccasins is the day I will consider giving him up for adoption. Until that day, I will do ALL the bribing and tricking to get him to eat those darn veggies, even if it means dressing as Elmo and doing a dance. But seriously, can you picture me doing this when he's still in high school? I might decide to do it when he brings his first girlfriend home to meet us.

That's all! And that's how we have attempted to manage the first year of toddlerhood. 

Are our methods bad or good? I guess we will have to wait and see. For now, I'm enjoying this phase, despite all the ups and downs that come with it! 


  1. At the theater we call it redirection. It sounds less terrible than bribery. :) I do it all the freaking time!

    1. Haha! You're right! That's a much better way to describe it. That's what I'm going to call it from now on. And don't you love how easy it is to manipulate...I mean "redirect" kids? They'll do anything if you dangle the right carrots in front of them.

      Props to you for wrangling all those kids in that environment. My head spins just thinking about it. Miss you friend!


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