Game on

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A six-year-old bamboozled me. Hoodwinked. Duped. How did I let myself get sucked into the guilt-inducing game of a clever little boy and also, for a brief moment, actually think I might have done something wrong? Boy, he’s good…he’s “really” good.

My son, Nicholas, started the “you love my brother more than me” and “I am no good at anything” ridiculousness which drives me nuts. He likes to see how upset I get every time he says, “You hate me!” and I protest for a long time trying to convince him otherwise.

One particular night around bedtime Nicholas babbled on about how I hurt his feelings because I didn’t like the way he read his book (he’s an exceptional reader). I asked him to specifically tell me how I hurt his feelings. He replied, “I don’t want to tell you,” and that set off the next half-hour of coaxing and cajoling to find out what was bothering him. I never did get a straight answer.

The next morning as I was walking with my friend and relating what happened with Nicholas the night before, she said matter-of-factly, “Yeah, my kids started that right around Nicholas’s age and they still do it now that they are 10 and 12. Not quite as much as when they were younger but they still do it.”

Started what?

Try to get as much attention as possible — that’s what. Whether it’s claiming I love his brother more than him, announcing he’s no good at anything or declaring that I’ve hurt his feelings, it’s clear that this self-absorbed little rascal has stumbled upon a way to get noticed.

I stopped dead in my tracks as my friend related more stories to me about the way her older kids did (and still do) vie for mom’s attention at any cost. I realized that our inane conversation the night before had nothing to do with Nicholas’s hurt feelings and everything to do with him prolonging his bedtime. It worked. He had my attention and his bedtime was pushed back by at least 30 minutes. Chalk one up for Nicholas.

I felt a lot better after talking to my friend because I realized I’m not a bad parent, I just have a clever kid. Now that I know how Nicholas’s attention-getting diversions work, I go in with my own game-winning strategy.  I’m no longer sitting on the sidelines frantically reading the players’ manual.

Another attempt

Nicholas tried again the next night to delay his bedtime by insisting he did not want to go to the park the next day with his brother and me. “I hate the park! It’s boring,” he said. Considering this particular park is one of our favorite places on the planet, I suspected another ingenious attempt to avoid going to bed. I calmly told him he could stay home with his dad and I wouldn’t make him go to the nothing-to-do, dull, boring place.

Nicholas was confused because he didn’t get the reaction he expected. He said again he didn’t like the park and I told him, again, he didn’t have to go with us the next day but he DID have to go to bed. As he made his way upstairs he turned to me, stomped his foot and yelled, “Fine! I’ll go to the park!” His demeanor changed when he realized I wasn’t falling for his shenanigans and his option to stay home wasn’t quite as appealing as going out to have fun for the day. Chalk one up for mom.

I still can’t believe I was hoodwinked that first time, but kids instinctively know how to push buttons. Nicholas especially can zone in with amazing precision on what makes me crazy. Talk like “I’m no good” or “you hate me” makes me nutty because it’s untrue not to mention unfair.

But, I am learning to read his cues much better and like the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.”
Game on, little man. Game on.

Kimberlee Murray is writer and mother of two.Visit her blog, *Life* *Isn’t Rocket Science* at www.kimberleemurray.blogspot.com.