This was the moment. The next hour of my sanity was hanging in the balance. I stared at our daughter, who lay slumped on the floor, glaring back at me. We were assessing each other, each analyzing what our next move would be. This moment was all about control. The vacuum lay beside her, quietly waiting.
It was a Saturday morning. We were in the midst of our weekly clean-your-bedroom routine. We had done this regularly for the nearly four years she and her brother had been a part of our family. At a young age, we did a lot of the room-cleaning work for her or alongside her. Now, at the time of this particular episode, she was entering second grade. She, with the help of her younger sister, could do most of the dusting herself. The vacuuming was where the entire project broke down.
This is probably a fear-of-failure behavior, I thought. I was continuing to weigh my options. But if this was a fear-of-failure behavior, why had she been compliant with this task previously, but in the recent past, had turned it into a nightmare?
I finally decided on a proposal: I’ll split the task again. If she does her part well, I’ll finish up the other side of the room.
I announced my idea, which was where we usually landed; half-and-half according to behavior. She stared at me, then groveled around on the floor. Her message was clear: No, that wasn’t good enough. “I’ll stay up here with you while you do your part,” I added, hoping to garner some favor.
All these control issues! It’s Saturday, for crying out loud. Just get your five minute task done and we can move on with our family plans! I growled internally.
Suddenly, her behavior hit me in a funny way. She looked like the Pout-Pout-Fish from the children’s book by the same name. I told her my silly analogy in as kind and humorous a way I could manage. To my surprise, she burst out laughing. I said it again. More laugher. In an instant, her wall was down and she ceased her fight for control. Suddenly, I was on her team again, and in several minutes, with encouraging cheers from me, she had vacuumed her side of room. I was able to finish up, and on we went to the anticipated events of our weekend.
I wish I could say humor works every time. It doesn’t. But it’s always worth a shot, and my favorite part about using silliness to break through behavior is that it takes a negative situation and makes is positive. Some great family jokes can even come from near-disasters turned around in the last moment. Humor creates connection.
The biggest challenge for me is keeping my humor free of sarcasm. Sarcasm doesn’t work, and is not an acceptable parenting technique. Additionally, by the time I’m knee deep in control-based behavior, I’m not having much fun or feeling inclined to genuine humor. But it’s a great tool, and I try to be mindful enough to keep it on the forefront when I sense behavior brooding. Stay light instead of getting sucked into the fight.
The next time you find yourself weighing which move to make about a behavior, perhaps a silly approach can resolve or divert the issue. I encourage you to try it!