It’s Not a Race!

After an exhaustive search for parenting resources that offer comprehensive, between-the-lines information, I have reached two conclusions: 1. the specialized advice I seek remains unwritten, and, 2. if it did exist, I probably would have thrown it out anyway, along with the not-too-hot, not-too-cold proverbial bath water. It seems that all of the information available reads well in theory, but stops a few steps short of offering answers, explanations or solutions to many everyday situations.

Without specialized guidelines to refer to, rules and routines are continuously made, modified and mangled by kids and adults alike. It’s the everyday situations for which advice is scarce that have made it a necessary and common practice for parents and children to continually create, bend and break rules.

Teaching young kids about competition and fair play can be like guiding them through an unsolvable maze, as we help them become gracious winners and civil losers. In the early stages of this process, it is occasionally necessary for the adults to resort to cheating… to lose. Even though kids are vigorously taught in all situations that cheating is unfair, unacceptable and unrewarding, sometimes, cheating to lose is a necessary card to play to avoid foul outbursts during the otherwise enjoyable playing of a family game.

The child who desperately and shrilly hollers, “It’s not a race!” is always the one who happens to be losing the race… or non-race. Of course, as far as the child is concerned who is handily winning the race, you’d better believe it IS a race and there WILL be a winner and a loser. The status of the event can change in an elevated heart-beat if the person running behind catches up and overtakes the opponent… in which case, according to that child who was previously losing, it is, in fact, now a race.

There is one clothing item that children continue to need help with long after they have learned to dress themselves. It is an item that they are extremely particular about, and its use often has volatile results: the mitten. Wearers are insistent that they go on “just so.”   Never mind that yesterday they had to go under the cuff, because today it has to be over and if there’s the slightest variation (from what, exactly?) the red-faced child’s feet will stomp and arms will flail, making it near impossible to put the mitts on, let alone put them on according to an unclear, cryptic set of specifications.

In some situations, when the parent speaks the word “no,” the child actually hears the word “yes.” Same goes for “maybe.” If a child asks to go outside to play after completing his or her homework, and the parent says “maybe,” what is actually heard by the child is “yes.” As it becomes clear that the completion of homework will coincide with the beginning of dinner “maybe” reverts to “no” in the parent’s mind, while elevating to “yes” in the child’s mind. The parent will be admonished for breaking a promise, since, of course, “maybe” really means “yes.” Confused? Maybe? If a child were asking, that would mean yes!

Very young children will only go shopping, walk to the post office, leave for swimming lessons or an appointment, on their own terms. Regardless of the calm and logical explanations parents offer, they are rarely enough to rival the child’s here and now. Of course, promising a treat, like an ice cream or a visit to a special store, is highly discouraged as a hopelessly slippery slope, saved only for emergencies. And there is a degree of certainty that an emergency will occur when it’s time to leave the toy store, get out of the pool, or head back inside when returning from the post office.

There is an astounding dramatic intensity with which kids occasionally proclaim, “There’s nothing to do!” The chin drops and legs collapse sideways as the child flops, dejectedly onto the couch. Facial expressions, complete with rolling eyes indicate nothing short of unbearable discontent. I haven’t met too many kids who actually suffer from a shortage of games, activities and books, and therefore take it upon myself to read between the lines of this statement. I’ve concluded that what they are really saying is: Please stop buying me stuff! I have too much already and am overwhelmed by all the choices!

I especially appreciate the absence of inside information when it leads us to opportunities such as this to provide our own interpretation to the actions and words of our kids!


Originally published in the Waterloo Region Record