How to Build Confidence in Kids: Play the Boob
We all pretend to be klutzes sometimes when we are playing with our kids. It makes them laugh, feel clever and strong (by comparison to their inept parent) and makes them want to be more cooperative. Sound odd? Embarrassing? Unnatural? Well, actually it’s a silly idea that’s super smart and I bet you’re doing it already! Do you ever:
- Pretend you’re startled when your child roars like a tiger?
- Have a little race and intentionally lose?
- Have a pillow fight and let your tot topple you with each swipe?
If you answered yes to any of those, then you’re already playing the boob (and, you know how much your child loves it)! Playing the boob makes kids feel like winners—and that helps them give in faster on issues that we parents care about! Playing the boob boosts confidence in a child while also building cooperation.
For example: 22-month-old Alice loves to “blow her dad over”: She puffs really hard on his chest…and he teeters…then falls onto the couch while she howls with laughter.
When I was still seeing patients, I would play the boob again and again during toddler checkups. It usually wins a child’s cooperation in minutes, or less. I beg you to spend time learning this one. This goofy-sounding idea is one of the most effective tools I know for increasing toddler cooperation and diminishing tantrums.
The basic idea is to make your child feel smart/strong/fast/etc. by making yourself seem, well, like a bit of a “boob.” It’s best used for all toddlers, dozens of times a day. Once you get the knack, playing the boob will become your toddler’s all-time favorite game. (Yours, too!)
Child Confidence-Builder: How to ‘Play the Boob’
Here are just a few of the wacky ways to play the boob:
- Be a baby. Pretend you want something your toddler has. Reach out and whine like a baby saying, “Mine, mine…pleeease!” Let her easily defy your pitiful request. One of my favorites is to say, “Gimme five,” but then pretend to be afraid. Then I let the child give me five. If she does it gently, I thank her for being so nice. But if she whacks me hard, I hop around yelping in mock pain, “Ow! Ow! Ow! You tricked me! You tricked me! You’re not fair.” Then I blow hard on my hand to take away the sting. Kids howl with delight and want to do it over and over.
- Be short-sighted. Pretend to search for something that’s right next you. Say, “Book! Where is my book?” When your child giggles and points to it, ham it up and exclaim, “Where? Where? I don’t see it.” Then finally look where she’s pointing and say, “YEA! You found it! You’re a good finder! Thank you.”
Be a klutz. Ask your child to hand you something but “accidentally” drop it (over and over again), saying “Uh-oh! Uh-oh!” Before I examine a worried 2-year-old, I always place a toy right on the edge of the exam table so that it falls as soon as I let go. As it drops I exclaim, “Noooo! Doooon’t fall!” I do this over and over, each time pretending to be ever more careful in putting it down. I “command” the toy (or plead with it), “Pleeease don’t fall!” Of course, when I let go it always falls again.
Pretty soon, the child relaxes and looks quizzically at his mom, wondering Is this the guy you meant to take me to, Mom? Because I can do the thing he’s bumbling with. Usually the child laughs and wants to play with me because he sees I’m such a boob he doesn’t need to be afraid.
- Be confused. Put your shoe on your hand or wear your hat upside down. Announce that you need to see if your child’s hands are clean…but inspect her foot Then protest, “Hey! You’re tricking me! That’s not your hand!” Now demand, “Give me your hand!” But look in her pocket.
- Be forgetful. Ask your child: “Do you want your green pants or the blue ones?” After he says “green,” immediately act like you forgot, “Huh? What? Did you say the blue ones?” Point at your child’s foot and fumble for the word. Say, “Give me your…ummm…your…uh.” Frown as if you just can’t remember the word “foot.” Keep fumbling and pointing. In seconds, your toddler will lift up his foot and gleefully finish your sentence, “Foot, FOOT!”
- Be pompously incorrect. Loudly sing the wrong lyrics to a song, “Happy elephant to you!” “Happy elephant to you!” Your child will love to correct you…but act like you’re sure you’re right. (“No, those are the right words!”) Or like she didn’t hear you correctly, “No way! I didn’t say elephant… I said” Then sing the song with the wrong word again and if she corrects you again, pompously proclaim, “No way! I’m the best singer…IN THE WORLD!!!”
- Be ridiculous. Say something absurd in a sincere voice, “Want some delicious…mud?” or “Okay, it’s dinner time…You have to eat your shoe!” This will make your toddler grin and feel smart because even he knows people don’t eat mud.
- Be weak. Pretend a little toy is too heavy to lift. Struggle at it, then ask for help. Or wrestle, but let your child keep wriggling out of your grasp even as you boast, “I’ve got you now! You’ll never get away!”
- Be a pushover. Ask your child to do something you know he won’t want to do…and let him win. Point to the shoes on his feet and say, “Give me your shoes, pleeease! I want shoes!” When he refuses, “beg” him, “Please! Pleeease!” Then, when he refuses again (with a mile-wide grin) throw down your hands and whine, “Okay, okay…you win! You always win! You win me 100 times!! You never do what I want!”
I once made a house call to see a baby. There, I met her big sister, 2-year-old Noa. Noa was drinking juice and I playfully put out my hand and asked, “May I have your sippy cup? Pleeease?” She scowled and said, “No!” Then she turned away from me and wedged herself between her dad’s legs for protection. I begged like a baby, “Please? Pleeeeeeease? Pretty please with sugar on top?” She protested, “No! My cup!” I saw she was looking worried, so I backed away, smiled and chirped, “You say, ‘No! Go away, Man.’ Okay, Noa…you win, you win! That’s your sippy cup! You keep it! You keep it!” Noa beamed and puffed out her chest. She felt like a winner! And she felt that I had treated her with fairness and respect. I know that because a minute later she took my hand and introduced me to all her dollies!
Is It a Bad Idea to Let Your Toddler Think You’re a “Boob”?
Not at all. Your child knows you’re not really weak or a baby. You’re his ultimate hero. You’ll never lose his respect just because you goof with him a little bit. In fact, he’ll love you even more for it.
Think of playing the boob as an ancient form of flattery (a fundamental tool of diplomacy). It’s like buttering up the king: “Oh, Your Lordship, you are soooooo strong!”
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