I am a firm believer in NOT manipulating one’s children. Someone I know used to tell his daughter, when she was much younger, that everything was “chicken,” because the girl refused to eat anything except for chicken. So, rather than telling her it was, say, watermelon she was eating, or a hot dog, he’d say it was “chicken.” Hm. Not into that.
To this day, years later, he laughs over that season in his little girl’s life. But to me? That’s too close to lying. And, too high-maintenance. My style is more along the lines of, “Eat it or go to bed hungry.” And, well… I guess both sides have merit, though mine is particularly less merciful, so perhaps I shouldn’t be patting myself too hard on the back for my honesty.
There is certainly a fine line there, I’m discovering, especially for little ones for whom appearance and perception truly matters. In our home, that would be Audrey. She’s almost five (gasp!), and this has been the case since she was very young. I have to be careful not to wield unwisely my power to get her to do what I want her to do.
- She used to fight me tooth and nail when it was time to wash her face. I had a little revelation, and, appealing to her vanity, I solemnly explained that she had so much muck on her face that I couldn’t see her “pretties”. As I gently rubbed her cheek, nose, and chin, I started to exclaim that, bit by bit, her pretties were shining through!! Audrey was genuinely excited. After I washed her, she insisted on looking at her glowing face in the mirror, happily admiring her pink, clean little self… It stuck. We’ve been uncovering her pretties, after mealtimes, for years now. It works with Fiala, too. Fi is not quite 2½, and has never been quite as enamored with the idea of beauty as Audrey. So, getting her pretties to shine through isn’t quite as effective, but nearly so.
- About a year ago, I bought a pair of brown jeans for Audrey. I couldn’t pass up the deal — the cost was less than $2 for them, brand-new! I anticipated a bit of a struggle, though, with Audrey. Brown, according to very small girls who have a very persistent “girlie” streak, is not a very feminine color. She looked very dubiously at them, and proclaimed brown to be a “boy” color, because it is the same color as dirt. “Oooh,” I cooed conspiratorially, smoothing the rich brown fabric, “These aren’t dirt-colored. They’re chocolate-colored. These are chocolate jeans!” Instantly, Audrey’s face was all delight; she changed her tune completely. “Oooooh! Chocolate jeans! I looove chocolate jeans!” And, she’s loved them ever since, calling them “chocolate jeans” every time she wears them.
- I bought Audrey a pack of undies, not too long ago. There was an assortment of patterns and colors, most a variety of pinks and purples. One, though, was not to her taste: The pair featured a number of different sizes of elephants, colored various shades of blues and reddish-pinks. Elephants, I could hear her thinking, are boy animals. And, to make matters worse, some of them are blue. Blue is a boy color. Everyone knows that. Disdain clouded her face, and she opened her mouth to protest. Preempting her, I pointed out, “These aren’t just elephants. They’re elephant families. Look. The larger blue ones are the daddy elephants. The lighter blue ones are the brother elephants. The bigger pink elephants are the mommies, and the littler ones are the sisters. And, look!” I continued with a tiny, tender gasp, “There are itty-bitty elephants, too! Those are the babies!!” I do know my daughter. “Ooooh!” she squealed, eyes open wide, anticipation filling her whole self, “Baby elephants! Elephant families! Oh, I want to wear them right now!” And the pair of underpants which, at first blush, she would have gladly chucked into the trash, unworn, became her favorite in an instant. They are, still.
- Audrey takes a nap on my bed. The two girls share a room, and while that works fine for night time, when they both sleep, room-sharing during naptime is not nearly as successful, especially since Audrey actually sleeps only once out of every three or four days. Normally, I time it so that I’m not doing laundry when she goes down for a nap; somehow, I knew it would bother her if the sheets were missing. But, on a recent Saturday, it just happened that the linens were in the wash when it was time for Audrey’s nap. She walked into my room and balked. “I can’t sleep on that bed. It has no sheets.” Now, I could have put on an old set of sheets just for her nap, but I balked at the extra work. Instead, looking at the mattress pad — a new one, bright white, soft and puffy — I whispered conspiratorially to Audrey, “Look!” I patted the bed. “You get to sleep on a cloud!” Instantly, her eyes lit up, and I knew I had sold her. “A cloud?!?” she asked, dreamily. “Oooh, it’s so soft. Just like real clouds. Do you think real clouds are soft like this?” She napped, like a dream, on a cloud…
Manipulation? Yes, a bit. Spin? Definitely. Lying? I hope not.