29 June 2012

Things I’ve Learned From Being a Parent #167: A Brief Guide to Extricating Your Child From a Party

As summer kicks into gear, we’ve found ourselves traveling as a family to a variety of functions, such as barbecues, birthdays, and graduation parties. And there are many challenges inherent in such an excursion—honestly, in leaving the house anytime for any reason, but I digress—though one particular challenge we routinely face is the exodus from the party. Convincing a child to leave and return home is often an exercise in abject futility and simultaneously a massive power struggle.

Here are some things we’ve gleaned from our recent experiences:
  • Plan ahead. Like an hour or two before you want to leave. Start seeding the idea. It’s no longer you and your spouse, on the same page, ready to leave at the same time. You are not on the same page, you may never be on the same page with this one. Start a countdown. And just keep reminding them of it every few minutes. Because they will have completely forgotten what you talked about mere minutes before.
  • Come up with convincing excuses. Have your stories worked out. Remember going out in high school, maybe with a sibling, maybe with a friend, and you’d been doing something you shouldn’t be (or were expressly forbidden from doing) and you were going to be home late and you needed to have a reasonable explanation that needed to match up with your friend’s/sibling’s version of events, lest there be later conversation and fact-checking done between the adults in question? It’s kind of like that. But with a child. He’s still like a detective, he will ferret out the inconsistencies and nail you for them. Don’t let him.
  • Enticements, cajoling, flat-out bribery are not out of the question. But they should not be your go-to options.
  • Children are not reasonable. Remember this. This is key. You can’t reason with them the way you would with an adult. Absolutely not going to happen. So don’t waste your time.
  • And don’t use their sibling as a reason for leaving, in any way. This will only further enrage them.
  • Sidenote: Maybe just go someplace that isn’t fun to begin with. That’s another option.
  • Paint the other kids at the party as bad, somehow. Because they are. Yes, take the opportunity to sell out someone else’s child for your own selfish ends. Who will know?
  • Steel yourself for a scene. Often you can’t really prepare yourself. But you do not want to be seen screaming at your kid—or possibly worse, crying—in front of all these people. You want to remain reasonable and maintain the appearance of composure. At all costs.
  • Sharpen your negotiation skills. Don’t be fooled by him. He’s going to manipulate you. Don’t collapse like a house of cards. Nobody wants to see that.
Of course, this is not a foolproof approach. The other thing you need to learn is the ability to improvise and adapt. The dynamics will shift and the kid will wriggle out of situations or traps you construct (verbally, physically, etc.). Easily. So you need to be on your toes. And you need to work in tandem. You and your significant other need to be on the same page and sometimes it will actually take both of you working together to outwit and outmaneuver the pint-sized terrorist who will pull out all the stops to defeat you.

This is actually a philosophy you could apply in almost any situation of life with a toddler. Maybe be prepared is the best suggestion. And not only for success. But also failure. Because it is inevitable. If you can chalk up more victories than defeats, you’re getting somewhere. Yes, I’m advocating keeping score against your child.

It might be the only way to survive the whole ordeal.

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