How I Get My Son to Behave—By Playing Pretend

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Playing make-believe will encourage my kid to behave… wait, what? That’s the basic idea.

Well, at least for my child it did, because instead of fighting against the imagination, I actually encouraged it. The catch is that I encouraged it to my advantage.

Like many parents, it took me a while to see that, as a parent, I could actually benefit from my child’s vivid imagination. Allow me to explain.

My five-year-old son Soren has an amazing imagination that makes me laugh, sometimes cringe, sometimes worry and other times wish I could be his age again.

As a parent, his imagination has done a magical thing for me: if I embrace the moment and follow along with his imagination in certain situations—especially those when I need him to behave the most—I win.

Here are some examples of how I use my son’s imagination to my advantage. (Costumes are encouraged.)

The “Supermarket-Turned-Erupting Volcano” Game

“Soren, we need to get all the groceries as fast as we can through the jungle. Watch out! The volcano is erupting and here comes the hot lava! Run, run, run! Hurry and grab all the things we need to survive. Phew! We made it to the safety line (checkout line). Good job Soren, we won’t be melting under hot lava and we have enough supplies to live.” 

Sure, we get some odd stares from people (and a few cute smiles , but I have a happy kid and a fridge full of groceries—in half the time.

The “Bathtub-Turned-Rescue from the Blazing Fire” Scenario

Instead of screaming bath time a hundred times and struggling to get Soren to break away from whatever he is doing for a bath; now, it’s the only safe haven for Soren and all his animals, toys and cars (only the ones appropriate for water of course) from the treacherous fire.

As he fights off the blaze surrounding us from the bath tub as our number one firefighter, he also gets in a good scrubbing. I call that a win-win.

The “Restaurant Table & Chair Turned-Pirate Ship” Solution

I am sure many parents can commiserate that a meal out is more hassle than its worth. Getting Soren to sit still in his chair was less likely to happen than winning the lottery.

But one day Soren decided to draw a treasure map as we ordered and waited for our food to arrive, which got me thinking why not extend the imagination to a pirate ship. So, our table and chairs became the ship with the dark ocean all around us, and as we traveled on the ship we drew our treasure map and charted our course for the treasure.

Occasionally, we encountered fellow ships along the way that we sword fought (with straws). As a result, dinners out became much more manageable.

So, there you have it: The next time your kid won’t listen, you need to get errands done, want to enjoy a meal out and you’re thinking to yourself “I don’t have time to play imaginary games“—embracing your child’s imagination might get you just a few steps closer to your goals.

And maybe, if you play your cards right, your kid might even think you are a pretty fun parent.


Featured Photo Courtesy: Nairi Gruzenski



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