I don't remember what lapse in judgment led me to take my two young children to a store that featured hundreds of breakable knickknacks, a pinch-faced clerk, and a "You Break, You Buy" sign. What I do remember is grabbing my 3-year-old Charlie's hand at the tail end of an expansive gesture and rescuing several glass dolphins from certain extinction. Desperate to escape the store without any accidents, I told Charlie and his 6-year-old sister, Kyla, to "walk like Grandpa," a man who never takes a step without his hands clasped behind his back. Why he does this we have no idea. Improbably, the "Walk Like Grandpa" maneuver worked -- and helped us survive many more shopping expeditions or, more accurately, helped many shops survive us.
That day, I realized some of Kyla and Charlie's worst behavior could be avoided with a few fun games. None of the ideas I came up with needed rule books or fancy equipment. But they worked, and they elicited plenty of giggles along the way.Problem Behavior: Not Listening
There's nothing scarier than seeing your toddler heading straight into the street, oblivious to the fact that you're yelling "Stop!" at the top of your lungs. Or spotting your little kid pulling a sharp knife off the counter, ignoring your cry of "No!" I confess that I overused those commands, so "stop" and "no" became white noise.
Fun Solution: Borrowing an idea from an old party activity, I cranked up the music and danced around with the kids. Then I switched it off and said, "Freeze!" We all froze. When they got really good at it, I tried it without music. Sure, we looked silly dancing around to the sound of silence, but soon, if I said "Freeze!" they stopped cold. Next we practiced in the outside world. I saved "no" and "stop" for nonemergencies like Charlie's putting eggs in his pocket or Kyla's poking her fingers in my ears. "Freeze" become our safe word -- one they associated with a fun game, so they didn't feel like defying (or ignoring) me when they heard it. Most important, it bought me just enough time to get to the kid who was in danger and scoop him up before anything bad happened.