We love our kids, but parenting can be incredibly frustrating. Want to know a trick for how to deal with difficult children? Make a game of it. Kids love to play, so when you’re playful, you work with your children rather than against them.
I quickly learned this when my two-year-old daughter had a bad cold. Argh, she refused to drink anything! Then something magical happened. I created a playful game and soon I couldn’t refill her sippy cups fast enough.
You can read a light-hearted story (in less than 5 minutes) which describes my playful approach. This is from Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It, an entertaining, easy to read book showing playful ways to make parenting easier—and more fun. While this story focuses on a two-year-old, the playful technique can be used for any age.
Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Drink
Getting Kids to Drink When They’re Sick
“No drink!” Emily shouts, pounding the kitchen table to emphasize her two-year-old powers. After peering at me with a deep, piercing glare, she resumes coloring her pumpkin drawing.
A moment later and for the umpteenth time this morning, my daughter opens her mouth, scrunches her nose, and propels her head forward. “Achoo!”
“God bless you. As I was saying, you need to drink when you’re sick because—”
“NO! Me no drink.”
I cringe and shake my head. Welcome to the Terrible Twos.
It’s October, the beginning of cold and flu season, and Emily’s sneezing is getting worse. She must drink fluids. I have to do something, so I stride to the refrigerator to get her favorite beverage. On my way, I slide Justin and his activity mat farther away from his sister and her sneezing germs. Yeah, the odds are high that my newborn son will also get sick, but at least I can try to delay it.
“Yummy, I’m getting coconut water. Do you want some?” I ask, waving the container.
This time, Emily doesn’t even bother to look up. Instead, she leans closer to her drawing and scribbles broad, orange strokes. “NO! Me fine.”
While my jaw clenches tighter, I reassure myself. My daughter isn’t stubborn. She’s strong-willed. And this is a positive trait.
With this next sneeze, Emily wipes her nose on the closest item, her sleeve.
Hastily, I put back the coconut water, grab a few tissues, and dash over. “Here, sweetie, in case you get tired of your runny nose.”
“Mommy silly. Nose no run.” She giggles.
“You’re a silly willy,” I say, cleaning her dripping nose and kissing her head. Then I try again, this time offering a choice. “Would you like apple juice or water?”
Now what? She needs to drink, and I refuse to give in to a two-year-old’s power.
Think, Carrie, think. I must outsmart her. What can I do?
Sighing, I glance around in search of some inspiration and see piles of mail, unwashed dishes, crayons, her drawing—
Yes, a bright orange pumpkin!
It’s the Halloween season with pumpkins on every porch. And now I have an idea. Even though I’m excited to implement my plan, I approach my daughter cautiously.
“Wow, you’re doing a nice job coloring.”
“Have you ever played the game Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Drink?”
Hearing the words “game” and “pumpkin,” Emily squeals and flutters her hands. “Ooh, me play!”
“And we get to go outside. It’s not cold, but you’ll need a sweater.”
Emily tosses the orange crayon across the table and reaches up high, wiggling her fingers. “Uppie, uppie!”
In one full motion, I unbuckle her booster seat and hoist her out of the kitchen chair. As soon as her purple sneakers touch the ground, she runs to the row of jackets and sweaters hanging on hooks.
Not surprisingly, she sneezes again. “Achoo!”
Seconds later, Emily darts back to the kitchen carrying her favorite sweater and Justin’s sweatshirt. “Me blue. Baby Justin green.”
“You’re so helpful. Thank you.” With one hand to keep her steady, I slip the sweater over her fidgeting body. Then I lift my cheerful son from his mat and put the sweatshirt on him. “You are so lucky to have Emily as your big sister,” I say, tickling his tummy.
Emily skips in circles chanting, “Baby Justin, Baby Justin,” which makes him coo even louder.
Once my little cheerleader simmers down, I place Justin in his stroller, slip on my coat, and open the door. “Are you ready to play Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Drink?”
“Whee!” Emily exclaims. She extends her arms and flies out the door like an airplane, leading our little entourage.
Now comes the good part!
Pausing, I silently count to three. “Emily, one moment. I forgot the most important thing. Drinks for our game. Silly me.”
“Mommy silly.” She giggles.
“What color water bottle do you want? Blue or green?” I tightly cross my fingers behind my back and wait. Hope my plan works.
“Great choice. Wait here and I’ll be back in a second.” Right away, I run inside the house and grab the drinks, which, of course, were already prepared in the fridge. “Here you go,” I say, placing the green water bottle in her outstretched hand.
By now, I’m feeling quite confident, but I’m still antsy since we haven’t started the game. Holding my head high, I wave her drawing. “Let’s walk around the neighborhood and find your favorite thing— pumpkins!”
“Pumpkins!” Emily squeals, followed by another sneeze.
“Every time we see one, we’ll sing ‘Pumpkin, pumpkin, drink,’ and then we drink. Look! There’s a pumpkin by our door.” With a big smile, I raise my bottle high, like it’s a trophy, before gulping the water.
“Yay! Pumpkin, pumpkin, drink,” she says and takes several mouthfuls.
Wow, this is easier than I thought.
“Again!” Emily grabs my hand and drags us next door. As expected, when she sees the neighbor’s pumpkins, she jumps up and down and immediately belts out, “Pumpkin, pumpkin, drink.”
I wait for her to finish slurping her water before pointing to the porch. “Ooh, there’s also a little pumpkin by the big one. You know what that means.”
This time, Emily dances around the stroller and waves her bottle in front of Justin, who kicks his legs and coos like he’s singing with us. For the next ten minutes, we continue playing, stopping at each house to sing, squeal, and drink.
Well, what do you know! There are pumpkins everywhere.
Yup, it’s the Halloween season, so there’s at least one pumpkin on every porch and sometimes a whole group of them. After we stroll down our block and turn the corner, Emily unexpectedly starts crying.
Uh-oh. So much for my plan.
Her crying intensifies and she stomps the ground, tipping her water bottle upside down. “More!”
“Emily, it’s okay,” I say, exhaling with relief. “Look what I have in here.”
Right away, she scurries over and pokes her head inside the bag attached to the stroller. Since I’m just as quick, I wipe her dripping nose before taking out the surprise. “Yay! Your blue water bottle. We can keep playing.”
“Mommy!” Emily cheers and wraps her arms around my legs for a quick hug, careful not to spill her drink.
“Hey, I have an idea. Do you and Justin want to dress up as pumpkins for Halloween?”
“Pummmm-pkiiiiiiiins!” Without waiting, Emily runs toward the next house with its cluster of pumpkins. Before we can catch up, her sweet singing resonates along the sidewalk.
“Well, Justin”—I ruffle his hair and wink—“being strong-willed is definitely a wonderful trait. Here’s to pumpkins and Halloween, my new favorite holiday.”
©2020 Karen Thurm Safran
Put the Fun in Parenting
With an encouraging, down-to-earth tone, Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It is a collection of amusing stories showing playful ways to stop struggling with your toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. Through relatable, light-hearted stories, you’ll learn how to deal with difficult children and turn everyday frustrating moments into fun learning experiences.
You’ll discover that even strong-willed kids will quickly listen and cooperate.
Cheaper than a month of Hulu… and just as delightful.
Read another story, The Secret Magical Breath, and see how to teach your children mindful breathing.