Too many parents let their children pick their battles for them, walk away from conflict with their child, or even surrender at first shriek. This makes Johnny really pleasant for everyone to be around. (Ahem.) My wife and I pity those parents without judging them, and while praying for grace to do better ourselves. But we’ll both admit that sometimes, good parents don’t need a victory. They need a distraction.
Here are 7 Essential Diversion Tactics we have relied upon (as early as this morning) in five years of parenting:
7. Walk the Monkeys. This is a great option for days in which you have managed to paint a big, red target on your roof for Michelle Obama to send in the Drop Your Sixth Bowl of Chees-Itz and Turn Off Your 51st Episode Today of Curious George police. Everyone’s cranky after a day like this. You were wicked busy, which is why you kept feeding them saturated fat crackers and mind-numbing ape cinema. And your kids are exhausted—the sludgy kind of tired that follows a day of doing nothing. So when temperatures are running high, offer the monkeys a walk. This may sound lame most of the time, but if you play your cards poorly enough earlier in the day, they’ll thank you for springing them from the living room cage they forgot you put them in.
6. Spin Zone. My daughter Annie pretends she’s scared, but she’s a thrill seeker at heart. Unless she’s whining. In cases when prudence calls for diversion rather than discipline, few are as thrilling as the Spin Zone. Simply hold your grumbling child as if to comfort her, move to the center of the room or yard, and start spinning as fast as you can until you almost fall, or until you think your neighbors are about to report you. If this doesn’t result in your child laughing hysterically, then I am not a good parent.
5. Quick, Hide from Mom (or Dad). My kids love to hide, and they are routine suckers when one parent suggests they hide from the other. They don’t know that Parent 1 doesn’t care about evading Parent 2, but only about railroading whatever it was they were asking that you didn’t want to answer.
4. Don’t Smile. In the heat of debate, tell this to your upset kids repeatedly until they crack. You will undermine 80 percent of their grievances 80 percent of the time. As a kid, I had a 0 percent success rate holding my angry face against this ploy. My own kids are tougher.
3. Cross-eyed Blowfish Face. This specialty must be used randomly and sparingly, and it is best paired with actual tears (not your own) immediately after your child inhales. Correct application converts heartfelt sobs into hearty laughter.
2. Name the Best Thing Ever. I’ve said before that I tend to explain things (rather than declare them) more than I should to my children, which tend to realize too late. To my delight, when I was in this position earlier this month, as a last-ditch effort to dodge a showdown, I dropped a word on my daughter completely unconnected to anything we were discussing. The keyword? Gatlinburg, as in Tennessee, as in the mountain vacation spot she has been speaking about since Christmas. Suddenly only vacation mattered (but when? Can we go now? Who cares!)—a cheap, artless
trick, but an invention born of necessity.
1. Glass Slipper Effect. I call our favorite and final tactic the Glass Slipper Effect. It’s one of the most amazing phenomena I have seen as a dad. Among numerous three-weeks-overdue library items on our bookshelves is a copy of Perrault’s Cinderella, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown. At the tale’s climax, the prince’s herald “had Cinderella sit down, and sliding the slipper on her little foot, he saw that it fitted her perfectly, just as if it had been made of wax.” So the other day when two-year-old Annie scraped her knees, and the last two nights when she ended up in bed with us because of allergies, and this morning when she woke up grumpy, “Daddy saved” her (her words) many times over, by reaching behind the bed or into his pocket, pulling out an invisible but beautifully sparkling (“pink”) glass slipper, and sliding it onto her foot. When it felt snug, he said, “It fits as if it had been made of”—and they finished together—“wax.” And they lived happily ever after.