My partner's son has to do one hour of eye exercises each night. Needless to say they are the last thing he wants to do.
To give my partner a break from the limit setting and listening that followed I told him I would do the exercises with his son instead.
When I approached his son he immediately ran from me saying, “Noooo, I don't want to do them!”
But he had a little smile, so I followed this cue and decided to try some play.
He went to the corner of the living room and curled in a ball. “You'll have to carry me to get me up there!” he said. “Ok!” I said cheerfully, “Do you want to go piggy back or cradle?”
Unfortunately for me he chose cradle – It took all of my strength to lift his 65 pound body and then proceed up the stairs!
I huffed and puffed.
He fought back, saying playfully, “No, no, I don't want to go!”
But we made it up the stairs and into the bedroom, where I dropped him on the bed.
He jumped up and ran right back downstairs!
Let the Games Begin!
I bumbled after him to keep the chase going. He ran to a room and closed the door. I tried, but “failed”, to get in and then he ran out “attacking” me with our plush indoor “snowballs,” and his pool noodle “sword.”
After we play fought for about five or 10 minutes, he went off to get the things he needed for his eye exercises all on his own. I didn't have to say anything!
He showed me his supplies and I “oohed” and “aahed” over all the items he had, the special glasses and charts, all kept in a nice little box. I stayed close to him, letting him be the expert and show me what he had to do. He started his exercises easily and we took two two-minute breaks throughout the session to set the timer and have Special Time.
During one of the exercises, he hit a trigger and some big feelings came up. I stayed close and listened to him, but he moved through it pretty quickly and then finished the exercises.
Fighting My Own Resistance to Play
Afterward I reflected on how easily we moved from resistance to the exercises and then to completion just by playing first. As much as he is bored and frustrated with these eye exercises, he actually does want to do them. He wants to take care of his eyes and help them get better and correct the trouble he's having. Helping him work through the hard feelings and the challenge of it made it possible for him to get back in touch with the part of himself that does want to do the exercises.
I noticed that I get a similar blockage about making time for relaxed play and connection before a task.
When we play I get to help my children in the areas they struggle with, from teeth brushing to picking up toys to homework, while also tending to my relationship with them. But, as parents we are so burdened by our to-do lists. It becomes challenging to remember that taking time to play might actually help us get things done more quickly and joyfully, while also preserving and building on the connection we have with our children.
When I can work through my own resistance to slowing down and playing, the same way my partner’s son worked through his resistance to the exercises, it can be a win-win for us both.
It's true that taking this approach to parenting means I may not be able to do it “all.” I need to let some things go and prioritize what's really and truly important to me – and it’s not the dishes and laundry, although sometimes it feels that way!
But it works. And it feels so much better than fighting over how and when things should happen.
See if you can bring in some play or some laughter the next time you bump into resistance with your child. The Hand in Hand site is full of examples of how parents have turned their days around by making time to laugh and connect with their children.
You can too!