Choosing Your Battles

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In which our reluctant hero considers the only two practical options available. Fight or flight.

Being a Dad and being a manager at work are at times spookily similar roles. You constantly have to deal with temper tantrums, toys being thrown out of the cot and general silliness for little or no thanks. And the pay is rubbish.

Fortunately, the minute that you realise that whatever you do you are never going to win, everything gets much easier.

Becoming a Dad and a manager happened at about the same time for me. As if one ill-prepared voyage into the unknown, with only a punctured dinghy for protection, was not enough, I chose two. Idiot.

After paddling against the tide for a couple years, I downed anchor after realising that it wasn’t the winning, but the taking part that was important. Or, put another way, that you need to choose your battles carefully.

There you go. A top Dad tip. You’re welcome. 

Yes, throwing food, not tidying stuff up, and a constant cry of “DON’T WANT TO!” every time you ask for something to be done is annoying, but does it really matter? Is it worth getting upset about, or simply a behavioural issue to deal with at appraisal time?

Although fully aware of the need to choose wisely, I still can’t help going all in at the wrong times.

I once found myself in an hour-long standoff with my then two year old over mess. Quite a lot of mess, but just mess nonetheless.

Picture the scene. A small child, and a childish, tired-and-somewhat-fed-up-about-always-having-to-pick-up-the-mess adult facing each other, dead-eyed like a pair of Wild West gunslingers. Gunslingers separated only by a sizeable spread of Postman Pat toys. In the Wild West. Or the “Dining Room” if you prefer. “Why do I alway have to pick everything up? IT’S NOT FAIR!” Pathetic really.

I ended picking them all up of course in an ending as predictable as that of Titanic (spoiler – the boat sank.) With hindsight, it was a pointless battle to get involved in. And a pointless film to have watched too.

A race to see who could put the most toys away quickest would have been better. As would teamwork, singing or emotional bribery. Or pretty much anything else if I’m honest. Nobody gets upset, Ted Glenn ends up back in the recesses of the darkened toy box (to do whatever Ted Glenn gets up to in the darkness….) and the naughty step is spared a pounding from toddler feet. Jobs a good’un.

Children being children, there can never be any consistency. Our two are different. One is a strong advocate of the grand emotional gesture and occasional full on waterworks. The other is… well… stubborn and will never back down when he’s got something set in his mind. Just like his mother. Probably.

You need creativity in your approach to get to a desired outcome. Trick them into thinking that everything was their idea all along. Give them credit and a pat on the head if they do something nicely. Offer rewards. A Jammy Dodger per task completed perhaps? Even consider being nice if all else fails and you really have to. But above all, avoid a battle if you can.

Trust me, this simple yet effective technique usually ends with a painless win. So much so that I often adopt it at home with the kids too.

Work out what matters and what doesn’t. Take a deep breath and a step back. Nobody actually died when the heads got ripped off all of the daffodils, although they very nearly did. Deep breaths.

If all else fails and military intervention is needed, hit them where it hurts the most. Reassert your authority. Stand up tall. Stick your chest out and get your inner monologue working overtime. “I am a man. I am a man. I AM A MAN!!” Take decisive action. Switch CBeebies off and hide the remote control. Then head home.

That’ll teach them.