Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Tame a Terrorist

       One of the most profound pieces of wisdom my mother ever told me was this: "Children are little terrorists. You can't negotiate with them." This fact was driven painfully home to me this afternoon on the bus when a six year old boy took all of the passengers hostage with his preternaturally loud screaming. As the mother tried to hush his rage screams I reflected on the accumulated wisdom of hostage negotiators and how these strategems could be applied to parenting. If you have or regularly babysit a little terror try some of the following tactics:
1. Turn up the heat
 One of the first things the police do in a hostage situation (according to Die Hard and other action movies) is to cut the power, especially during a sweltering heat wave. Eventually the hostage-takers get so hot and irritable that they just give up, figuring that prison at least has air conditioning. This is an ideal tactic when your child is highly energetic. By turning up the heat and forcing them to wear a sweater you'll ensure maximum lethargy, and find they'll drift off into nap time.  You can aid this descent into dreamland by another common tactic:
2. Drug Them
 Now I'm not talking about throwing a bottle of tear gas into the room to break up the riot occuring in the ball pen, but a little whiskey in the apple juice never hurt anyone.  Look at this way, when they get to their adolescent years and go on a wild binge, you'll have saved yourself a trip to the emergency room. How can your child get alcohol poisoning if you've secretly been building their tolerance for years? Now that's what I call planning for a kid's future!
3. Turn out the Lights
 One side effect of cutting the power is that you will have no electricity in your house. We all know that a child's greatest fear is of the dark, so why not exploit that? One timeout in a dark, enclosed space and little Johnnie will be gratefully shoveling down his vegetables. For those of you who are thinking "what if this causes lasting psychological damage to my child?" let me share a story with you. 
 When I was around eight years old our family lived in a neighborhood of Omaha prone to frequent power outages. One night my  mom and I were alone in the house during one of these outages, reading in her room by candlelight. My mom told me she was going downstairs for some more candles. After waiting alone for several minutes I decided follow her, and so picking up my little candle I ventured alone into the dark, menacing hallway. Just as I was passing the bathroom door my mom jumped out shrieking. Knowing that I would eventually follow, she had been lurking there, waiting for the appropriate moment to strike. I jumped a foot in the air and tried to calm the rapid pounding in my chest while she writhed with laughter. Now I could be bitter about this experience, but I've discovered as an adult that I am entirely unable to be scared at haunted houses. I laugh and gleefully throw  my friends in the path of the chainsaw wielding maniac, because I learned an important fact that day. There is nothing scarier than my mother. This is the type of priceless life lesson you can impart on your children too. 
4. The Power of the Counteroffer 
 Professional negotiators cannot give in to terrorist demands, either because they don't have the authority or because the demands are unrealistic.  Instead of caving negotiators will often give small concessions. This can work with children too. Example:
Janie: I want to go to Disneyland
Mom: We can't go to Disneyland. How would you like this bag of chips?
Jimmy: I want a new bike.
Mom: You can't have a new bike. How  would you like this bag of chips?
Always keep a good stock pile of chips around to distract the child from what they really want. Cheetos, fruit snacks, and other high-fructose corn syrup laden items will work as well. If their mouths are full of snack items they will have more difficulty hounding you for something. Just remember to keep them distracted from what they really want long enough that they forget. 
Practical Police Psychologist Dr. Lawrence Miller said it best when he said "hostage negotiation is all about psychology". So get inside your kid's head, and remember what Mama said "Never negotiate." 
-Shadow Cat

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