Creating a Monster

I’ve created a monster, and I got my 2-year-old to cooperate with me. Does that sound contradictory? Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, my friend sent me this article from NPR: “Can Inuit Moms Help Me Tame My 3-Year-Old’s Anger?” The writer, Michaeleen Doucleff, traveled to the Canadian Arctic to observe Inuit parenting.

The Inuit people are known for controlling their anger, to the point that they never yell at their kids. How is that possible? The feat is accomplished through storytelling and play.

Doucleff explains how she employed Inuit strategies to get her daughter to stop hitting her, as well as to close the refrigerator, put on her shoes, share her toys, etc.

The storytelling involves creating a monster – and I felt really conflicted about that. I didn’t want to traumatize my precious baby or give him nightmares! On the other hand, what I was doing was not working.

The scenario: I need AJ to cooperate with me to get dressed in the morning, so we can get out the door in a timely manner. AJ says, “no I play with toys,” and hides under the table. I tell him, “I’m going to count 3, 2, 1 and then you need to come out.” I count, he resists, I yell, I drag him out and have to manhandle him to get him dressed. So, maybe a monster would be better.

I tried it: “AJ, there’s a monster and he’s coming to get you if you don’t get dressed!” What followed was stunning, immediate, total compliance. He plopped down on my lap. “A monster, mommy?” “Yes, so we have to hurry so the monster will go away.” We got him all dressed in less than a minute, and then I said, “Whew, the monster is gone!”

Wow. It was too easy. Also, he liked it. We were doing pretend-play together. Now, sometimes when I ask him to do something, he goes, “Monster?” and I invent a monster on the spot. “Come inside, AJ,” I say. “Monster?” he asks. “Yep, a purple monster.” He rushes inside. It’s as if he were just waiting for me to gamify his daily activities.

We were at a restaurant this past weekend and I very much wanted him to stop going underneath the table. I didn’t have to scold him, I just told him there was a monster under there, and resumed my adult conversation.

After a few weeks of this, the power of the monster might be getting somewhat diminished from overuse. But this seems to be solved by adding details: The monster is green and has big teeth! I could also introduce ghosts and witches.

My husband isn’t crazy about the monsters. He doesn’t like the idea of lying to AJ. He wants to tell him the truth. “AJ,” he says. “The monster is mommy.”

All right, touché . But I am feeling far less monstrous these days. 

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