The Power of Monkeys

The Power of MonkeysOr:  How to Avoid Power Struggles by Encouraging Your Children to Hallucinate…

A couple of weeks ago, I took my two year old to pick up his big brother from the afterschool program at the Ecological Farm near our house.  A naturally rambunctious toddler, Jeremy has serious trouble with transitions; getting him in and out of the car is pretty much of a nightmare (“Jeremy want to drive! Self! Self!”), and getting him in and out the Farm is close to impossible.

Roni, who’s seven, was tired and hungry, and wanted to go straight home and eat.  But, as expected, the Jer was excited by all the toys and stuff at the Farm and sat down and cried when I told him we had to go.

So there I was, exhausted after a long day at work, trying to figure out how to get a screaming Jeremy to leave the Farm and get in the car. Roni was getting impatient and I was at my wit’s end.

First I tried the old counting routine: “Ok, Jer, we’re all gonna get up and start walking at the count of three, right?” I warmed up, seeing I had his attention. “One,” I began slowly. “Two….Three!”

But Jeremy looked me square in the face and held on tighter to the rope swing he had been playing with: “Four, five six!” he answered, with a delighted grin. How is it that two year olds can grin when they’re crying?

He knew he had me. “Ok, Jeremy – now we’re leaving!” I insisted, with my most determined voice. “You have a choice: you can either walk to the car, or Mommy will carry you. What do you choose?”

Jeremy shook his head with even more determination. A second child, Jeremy is far more strong willed than Roni ever was. “No choice, Mommy. Jeremy want to play!”

I was getting desperate. And then – believe it or not – I thought “Emparenting!”  I had been working on the website all morning, and suddenly realized that I hadn’t even tried using the Emparenting! approach to deal with what was happening.

I stopped, counted to three, and tried to think about what Jeremy was feeling. He was excited and happy, and didn’t want to go home.  He certainly didn’t want to be dragged back into a hot car, when we had just gotten there.

If I wanted to get Jeremy back in the car painlessly, without a Toddler Temper Tantrum, I would have to be creative and make it fun for him. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make things fun for two year olds, whose imaginations are often more powerful than their grasp of reality.

“Jeremy”, I exclaimed as excitedly as possible. “Look at all these monkeys! They want to get in the car!” I cupped my hands together and knelt down in front of him. “Have you ever seen such teeny monkeys before?”

Jeremy stopped what he was doing and came over to inspect my hands. He hesitated, and I waited for him to push my hands away indignantly and tell me there were no monkeys there.  But – miracle of miracles – he didn’t!

“Jeremy want monkeys!”  He pretended to grab the monkeys out of my hand and cupped his own little hands together. “Jeremy take monkeys home!”   With that, he started running to the car.  Relieved, Roni and I followed suit.

Many of you are probably shaking your heads and  muttering, “Set limits!  Set limits!”  If the Superninny heard about me, she’d probably have a cow.  Sit that child down and tell him a thing or two!  Put him in the naughty corner if he doesn’t cooperate!  Don’t cater to his tantrums!

But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it?  I absolutely agree with the need for limits, and there are definitely cases (lots of them!) where a parent should just say “no”. But was that really one of those times?  I could have engaged Jeremy in a power struggle, broken his resistance, and forced him into the car – but what would that have achieved, other than an unhappy child and an even more exasperated parent? By putting myself in his shoes, and tailoring my reaction to his needs (as well as my own!), I was able to use the Emparenting! Mantra to diffuse the situation while leaving myself and my kids with a positive emotional experience.


  1. […] Whether it’s giraffes outside the pizza parlor in the mall or elephants sleeping on our porch, imaginary animals play a major role in our lives right now. Before bedtime, we’ve been known to walk around the house and say goodnight to the monkeys, and when trying to leave the toy store, we’ve enlisted Jeremy’s help in carrying the baby rhino to the car.  We’ve also let him take home the teeniest monkeys you’ve ever seen. […]