Parents should oblige children who seek attention through play

March 12, 2004|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

At times, I feel more like a psychologist than a parent.

Figuring out how to approach a child in order to get the desired response can be a taxing endeavor.

Sure, I can say I'm the adult and I'm in charge, but it takes more than strong-arm tactics to get to the heart of the matter.

If the truth be known, I like the challenges my kids present on a daily basis.

They've encouraged me to reach into my imagination, to get creative and to laugh a lot.

My 5-year-old makes a game out of everything.

Take getting ready in the morning.

Some days she'll answer to her given name, Chloe. At times, she's "Baby Madison." Other days, she's "Sarah, the Puppy."

The first time she pulled this stunt, part of me wanted to tell her to stop the foolishness. I just wanted her to get ready so we could get out the door on time.


But there was another part of me that wanted to play along to see where this game would take us.

I'll always remember her first transformation from child to infant. She looked up and said with a quiet voice, "My name's not Chloe. I'm Baby Madison, and I can slide and crawl."

I had a feeling that these abilities could be used to my advantage.

"Oh, Baby Madison, that's great. Let's see you slide out of your pajamas and crawl into your play clothes!"

She looked at me like that was the best idea ever. Then she promptly did it.

I instantly liked this game.

On the days that she's a puppy, she likes to have a head pat after each completed task.

(If that's all I have to do in order to transform a strong-willed child into a compliant one, I figure I'm getting off easy.)

I'll tell my puppy to "fetch her socks" and "brush her fur."

The extra effort is usually worth it. We get out the door on time with smiling faces when I'm willing to play along a bit.

On the contrary, when I get up on the wrong side of the bed and am in no mood to play, our mornings typically start with tears and whines.

I don't think a child knows the meaning of "Hurry up!" or "Don't tarry!" Those admonitions usually have the opposite of the desired effect.

Kids know deep down that we're not really joking when we talk about reverse psychology.

They use it on us, too.

We just need to remain calm, remind ourselves that we really are smarter than they are and try to consider things that have child-like appeal.

Most kids can't resist a contest or a challenge.

If I say, "It's time to go upstairs," my daughter will drag her feet. If I say, "Let's see who can be the first one up the steps," she almost always rises to the occasion.

Rivalries also can be turned around with a challenge. When my daughter and a friend both wanted to be first on a swing, I told her our guest should go first.

She frowned until I said, "You push her in the swing 10 times. Then she can push you in the swing 10 times. Both of you can count together up to 10, right?"

They've both been counting to 100, so that was an oh-so-easy task, and they gave me looks that reflected that thought.

Then they were out the door, sharing pushing and swinging roles.

Oh, so nice.

I believe in parental authority - when parents ask, children should obey.

But I also believe that when children want attention through play, parents should oblige.

Play is the most important thing in a child's life. It's how he learns, grows, socializes and loves.

If you want to show your child that you truly love him, take time to play.

Work always will be there.

Childhood won't.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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