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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

My Poker Face - Bluffing My Way Through Parenting

Just like a good poker player keeps his cards to his chest, so should a good parent; and you should never play your best card until the last hand. Just like in poker, when the stakes are high, sometimes a small amount of bluffing goes a long way. As it does in our house. 

Over the years, Hubby and I, in our desperation when nothing else seems to be working, have used certain techniques to pull our boys back in to line when they’re misbehaving. I’m quite sure parenting magazines wouldn’t suggest them, but sometimes a parent has to do what a parent has to do. Right?

We’ve tried all the usual ways of disciplining the boys. Time out. Confiscation of favourite toys. Sticker charts for positive reinforcement. The usual. Sometimes they work well, but sometimes, when things are getting dicey - not to mention Hubby and I are getting quite desperate – we’ve often, unintentionally, created a not-so-conventional way to get our boys’ attention.

For example, back in 2005, when we took the 8yr old and the 6yr old on a trip to Italy (then 3 and 18 months respectively), we spent a lot of time dining out at restaurants. (I’ve never eaten so much pasta in my life – and it was fantastic!) We’ve always taken the boys to cafes and restaurants, but doing so much of it during that trip, and with two boys sugared up with chocolate gelato almost every afternoon (thanks Hubby), it was even more challenging to make sure they sat still at dinnertime.

So one night, with threats and mini time outs not working, one of us (I can’t remember who) came up with: “If you don’t sit still, the Manager over there (pointing to one of the waiters) will take you to his office in the restaurant and you’ll have to sit with him for the rest of the meal.” It worked a treat. They didn’t move, and food was consumed in relative peace and stillness.

We continued with the “Manager’s Office” threat for some time. After all, it had worked so well for us. Why ruin a good thing? Even using it in the local fruit shop, shopping centres and the like. But after a while, just like pretty much everything else in this world, and what ultimately happens when you never follow through with a threat – the good times came to an end, and the “Manager’s Office” wasn’t having quite the same impact.

That’s when we came up with a real corker: “The Drop-Off Centre”.

The Drop-Off Centre, as we explained to our boys, was a place where naughty children went. Like a daycare centre, but without toys and yummy food. In fact, lunch was sure to be [insert child’s least favourite food here]. The Drop-Off Centre became a nationwide establishment, with centres in all capital cities, and even some country towns (wasn’t that lucky?). For example, on one trip to Perth back in early 2008, the 8yr old and 6yr old would not go to sleep. They kept jumping up, turning on the light in their room, mucking about etc. And so, in desperation, I threatened them with the Drop-Off Centre. When the mere mention of its name did nothing, I panicked. The Drop-Off Centre had been my wild card up until that point. It was in that moment of sheer desperation for the plan to work, I decided what to do. I had to “make a call” to the centre.

I stood outside the boys' bedroom door, phone in hand, the dial tone ringing in my ear as I said, “Oh, hello. Is that the Perth Drop-Off Centre? (pause) Oh, great. My name is Jodie Ansted. My two sons are not behaving very well, and I’d like to book two places for them tomorrow, if I may. (pause) What’s that? You have spots available? (pause) Oh, that’s great. May I book them please? (pause) Oh, thank you. Now…if my sons suddenly start to behave, and go to sleep, can I cancel the spots tomorrow morning? (pause) Oh, wonderful. What time shall I call to cancel by? (pause) 8am? Perfect. That will give them enough time to prove they will behave. (pause) Thank you so much. We may well see you tomorrow. (pause) Thanks. Goodbye.”

The boys fell quiet, and within ten minutes, they were both asleep.

Ok – so I’m not saying the Drop-Off Centre should be used by all. I’m not saying I’m proud of the fact that I used such a threat and lie to pull my kids in to line. All I’m saying is that when times get desperate, we often clutch at something…anything…that will help. I know one girl whose parents used to tell her the “Naughty Kids’ Bus” would be calling by to collect her and her brothers, and her parents would have them all sit on a bench outside their house waiting for it. Another friend’s mother used to tell her, after she continually hounded her for ice cream from the Mr Whippy van, that when Mr Whippy played his music, that meant the ice cream had actually ran out. (She was always amazed that her best friend, who lived up the road, always seemed to get the last ice cream.) I was with some parents once, before Hubby and I had started a family, who threatened their daughter with "boarding school" if she didn't stop pestering her sister. (Who hasn't used that one?)

Most parents have something they’ve said/done that’s not quite conventional. Admittedly, I don't feel great when I parent this way, but I also can't seem to stop myself clutching at straws when times get tough!

What about you? Have you used something similar out of desperation to get your kids to behave? Did your parents use such tactics?


1 comment:

V @ Invaluable Valuables said...

Your story brings back memories for me when I was a child. My mother would constantly threaten my brother & I that she would take us to the "Naughty Children's Home". She'de picked out a random mansion in a posh estate a few miles from our home & she would drive us there & leave us at the big gates of "The Home". After she drove around the block we realised she meant business, so we'de get back in the car declaring we'de be good forever, well at least till the next time. Now this exercise went on for many years & while my stepfather didn't actually stop my mum, he reminded her that it really wasn't a good idea in case some one ran off with us while she was circling the block, but she still thought her discipline technique was working fine. By the time I was 12 & my younger bro 8, we realised she was always going to come back to get us, so when she was out of sight doing a lap in the car we ran like lightening. We reached a main road without being seen. I explained to the first bus driver that came along that we were lost & needed to get home & free of charge he dropped us on the closet main road to our home. My brother & I walked into the house only to find our stepfather reading the paper & asked " Where's Your Mother ?". I said I don't know cause she dumped us so we got the bus home ! Well laugh he did & it turned out she hadn't been home to tell him we had vanished because of what he had always said & the "I told you so !" Within 10 minutes thou of our arrival she came home histerically crying & ready to call the police only to find us all having a good laugh at her expense ! One thing was for sure .. she never ever ever drove us there again !
Ironically Jodie, I also grew up in Perth .. maybe the "Drop Off Centre" you called is the same one we got dumped at !!! LOL :)