Using Games to End Struggles
A while back, Jamie decided to take on the job of turning on the taps for the children’s bath each evening. That was fine by me, though I did add the condition that he put his clothes in the laundry basket first. The problem was that, lately, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get him to get on and do these things. He would get sidetracked in his own little games and routines, deaf to my attempts to chivvy him along. Since we would need to get up in the morning in time for him to get to school, there really were limits on how much time we could afford to spend on getting the bath ready.
The solution to this seemed very simple to me – if he wasn’t getting ready to turn the bath taps on in good time, I’d do it. Logical consequences, right? Nope. In Jamie’s mind, turning the taps on was his job, and he would freak out with autistic fervor if I tried to do it. But no matter how many times I told him “You turn the taps on or I’ll do it!” he couldn’t seem to grasp that this didn’t mean “You turn the taps on in your own good time after you’ve played all the games you want to play.” Evening after evening, I found myself reduced to a maddeningly frustrating mixture of playing along, nagging, and empty threats as I tried to get him to get the bath ready in good time.
One evening, I informed Jamie that I was about to go into Bathtub Mode. Being in Bathtub Mode would make me go and start turning the taps on. The only way he could stop me from going into Bathtub Mode, I explained, would be to take his clothes off, put them in the laundry basket, and run the bath himself. As long as he was doing those things, I couldn’t go into Bathtub Mode, but I’d go into Bathtub Mode if he stopped.
The next evening, as usual, Jamie started messing around with something else when he was supposed to be going to get undressed. But this time, I didn’t issue ultimatums or yell threats – instead, I exclaimed in my best hammed-up dramatic tone “Oh, no! I’m going into Bathtub Mode! I’m going into Bathtub Mode! I’m going to turn the taps on!” and pretended to dive for the bathroom. And Jamie scampered for the laundry basket, got his clothes off in record time, and raced to get the bath running.
I was astounded by how well it worked. All I’d done, after all, was to give Jamie the same information I’d already given him over and over again – that if he didn’t get undressed and turn the taps on then I’d turn them on. But the simple change of framing it as a game that would appeal to him rather than as an ultimatum had somehow made it possible for the information to find its way through to his brain.
Hmmmm… would this work in other circumstances? Getting him to get changed out of school uniform at the end of the school day was another all-too-familiar struggle. One afternoon a few days after we’d started the Bathtub Mode game, as Jamie dawdled over getting changed, I put on my dramatic tone again and announced I was going into Clothes-Taking-Off Mode, and the only way he could stop me was to get his clothes into the laundry basket and his home clothes on.
This one took a little longer – Jamie (obviously remembering a phrase he’d picked up from a TV program or video game) launched himself at me exclaiming “I will defeat you! I will defeat you!” I was glad he was engaging with me, but this wasn’t getting his clothes off. I skipped nimbly out of the way, chortling in my best Smug Evil Overlord impersonation “You can only defeat me by getting changed into home clothes! Ha, ha, ha!” As soon as he made a move towards doing so, I switched to howls of mock dismay about how he was going to defeat me. Within a few minutes, Jamie was fully changed and our new game was fully developed.
And that’s how we’ve gone on since then. When I need Jamie to get dressed in the mornings, or undressed in the evenings, or changed after school, I muse aloud as though to myself “I wonder whether Jamie will remember to put his clothes on/take his clothes off? Maybe he’ll forget! Maybe I’ll be able to defeat him!” He promptly runs with delighted squeals of “I wiiiiiill DEFEAT you! I wiiiiiiiiiill DEFEAT you!” to do whatever he’s meant to be doing, while I pretend to howl in dismay: “Oh, no! Jamie’s getting his clothes off! Look, he’s nearly ready! Oh, noooooo!” When he gets off track, instead of ordering or nagging him, I start musing aloud again: “Hmmmm – maybe Jamie will forget to put his socks on!,” and the job promptly gets done. And, as he finishes getting ready, I fall dramatically to the floor with wails of “Ohhhh, nooooo! You have defeated me!” while he throws himself on top of me, giggling helplessly, his little face inches from mine; and the situations that used to disintegrate into shouting and tears instead end in laughter and hugs and connection.
Today’s gentle parenting post (#12 in a series) is a success story shared by Sarah. The post is also one of the two winning posts from the Playful Parenting contest (the other winning post was Playful Parenting Helps Children in Stressful Situations). To thank Sarah for participating, I am sending her a copy of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. We’ll be tackling that book in one of our future online book club discussions.
Sarah is a family doctor in the UK, mother to Jamie, a mildly autistic five-year-old, and Katie, aged two. She blogs at Good Enough Mum.
13 Responses to:
"Using Games to End Struggles"
My Book Is Now Available!
For My Children: A Mother's Journal of Memories, Wishes and Wisdom
Click the cover to order now!
- When Sharing Sleep Is Tiring
- Parenting From the Inside Out
- Five Ideas to Keep Babies and Toddlers Safe from Choking
- Vote Now for Your Favorite Photos in NPN’s Flickr Contest: What Does Natural Parenting Really Look Like?
- May 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting Call for Submissions: Emergency Preparedness
Forced Weaning Due to Pregnancy
101 Things To Do Instead of Yelling or Spanking
The Effects of Circumcision on Newborn Boys
Kardashian’s Call to Cover Up
- Mother’s Day Gift Set Giveaway from moksa organics and Zoe Organics
- Natural Parents Network Holiday Gift Guide
- Giveaway: 12×16 Custom Portrait from Destany Fenton Fine Art – $220 ARV CLOSED
- Giveaway: Story Starters Game from Mama May I – $25 ARV CLOSED
- Giveaway: $35 Gift Certificate to Earthslings – $35 ARV CLOSED
- Giveaway: $30 Gift Certificate from Dominna – $30 ARV CLOSED
- Giveaway: $20 Gift Certificate to Two Pink Hearts – $20 ARV CLOSED
- Giveaway: 3 Pairs of Earrings from Job Description Mommy – $45 ARV CLOSED
- Revisionary Parenting
- Giveaway: Qwirkle Game from SeriousShops.com – $25 ARV CLOSED