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  • Writer's pictureMarc Komori Stager

Never give your kid a cold shower

This blog post is in response to a memoir chapter where a parent absolutely loses it. The chapter is hilarious—you will laugh, and you will get gut punched. I, of course, will put it through the blog treatment and change it from funny and memorable by analyzing it until I wring all the fun out of it, and then I’ll make a poignant parenting point.

Not to spoil the end of the story--it is the chapter title from the book after all--but in the end the father forces his child into the shower and turns on the cold water. It stops his daughter from being horrible, and it also breaks both of their hearts. The daughter recovers much faster.

Never get into a power struggle with your child, but if you do—win it. This story sure has the father winning in the end. The chronical of how he and his daughter get here is heartbreaking. And the truism of never get into a power struggle, but if you do, make sure you win it, is part of our parenting lore. But is it a pyrrhic victory? Was it worth the cost? How would you react to a child who laughs in your face, who punches and squeezes her toddler-aged brother right in front of you just to spite you, just to show you that you are not the one in control?

Some alternative paths come to mind. At the beginning of the story, the child is screaming for dad’s attention because dad is attending to someone else on the phone (his own father, enough here for another blog post).

How might the story have turned out if our dad had stayed on the phone, even if his dad hung up? His daughter would have escalated all on her own trying to make daddy play her game, then she would have peaked and clamed down.

How might the story have turned out if the dad had given his child a choice? “Do you want to ask for my attention by screaming or by asking nicely?” If she screams, then the dad could say, “Oh, I’m sorry, that isn’t the right way to ask. I’ll talk with you about that after I’m off the phone with grandpa.” If she asked nicely, then the dad could respond calmly with “Thank you. I’m on the phone with Granddad. I’ll talk with you after I’m done.”

The trick is to remain clam. The avoid-power-struggle rule could be restated as never play chicken with an out-of-control child—you will lose. Play a different game. Play the calm game; play the long term game.

The book I pulled this story from is Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood by Drew Magary.

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