In general, children are wired to pursue independence. Early on, they attach to you and then they spend the rest of their baby/toddlerhood simultaneously wanting to be close to you and wanting to go off on their own. They roll, they crawl, they walk, they say stuff like “I play by myself now, Mommy.” Eventually they pass drivers training and start stealing money out of your purse, yet who do they call when they’ve gotten caught in possession of alcohol at the varsity basketball captain’s house party? Oh sure, Miss I’m-too-big-for-my-britches, I’ll come fetch you from the party, but you will never leave the house again.
Wait. That was not going to be my point.
I meant to say that humans are designed for survival, and survival of the species involves independence. But what happens when your kid doesn’t really seek independence?
The tot is cautious, overly so. I’m not sure “cautious” is the right word, but “unmotivated” makes it sound like she just lies around the house stoned instead of going out and getting a job so she can pay her own car insurance. “Uncertain,” maybe. “Reluctant” might be better.
She was a baby who never pulled off her own socks. She didn’t put bowls on her head. She didn’t (and doesn’t really) take off at the park or in the parking lot, nor climb from the highchair or grocery cart. In fact, I have had to empower her, encourage her, and practically coerce her to do such exploration. (When appropriate, of course.)
For instance, for the longest time, she would not even move her step stools to wherever she needed it, for whatever task she was working on. I mean, I’ve repressed how long it took to convince her that she could move the step stool from in front of the bathroom sink to in front of the toilet, but I promise you, it was not easy. You can imagine, then, that after two years of trying to get her to undress or dress herself, feed herself, communicate when she is hungry or thirsty, and so on, I might feel as though I’ve run out of ways to motivate her. Fortuitously (for me), sometimes a little luck is just what the recipe is missing.
a Halloween costume that requires balloons*
13 helium balloons with long ribbons, divided
a child who’d rather screech for help than try to do it herself
a step stool, in the other room
First, order balloons. Pick up and pay for balloons and attend festive Halloween gatherings. Bring balloons home and stash in laundry room so the cats don’t eat the ribbons. Go to bed.
The next morning, feel entirely too old to go to bars on Halloween weekend. Wish there was a coffee fairy that would just magically deliver the juice to your bedside, along with a heat-proof straw. Perk up a bit when you see how delighted your child is upon discovering balloons.
Untie the balloons and let all but one float up to the very high ceiling. Give the remaining one to the child. Show child how fun it is to grab the ribbons, pull them down, and set them free again just to watch them bounce on the ceiling. Say nothing about what she should do with hers, as a way of encouraging her to explore how she likes.
When the child sets the balloon free, ooh and ah with her as it joins its family. Say nothing when you notice its ribbon is significantly shorter than the others’.
Play dumb when she looks to you to solve her problem. Try open-ended questions, such as “How can you get it?” or “What can you use to make you tall enough to get it by yourself?” If her response is a blank stare (common), suggest the step stool.
Cheer inwardly when she happily runs off to get it. Top with marvel over idea of balloons as
bait bribery most worthwhile toy purchase this month motivational tool. Serve with satisfaction as she repeatedly uses stool to solve balloon problem.
Serves two, in this case. Recipe may be duplicated as necessary and as luck is available.
*Pictures coming soon, I hope. It turned out great.