by Dustin (bio)
Prison is a scary place. So is elementary school. And so is virtually any new environment where there is a pre-existing power dynamic -- first day at a new company, rookie on a sports team, new recruit in the military or in a fraternity. What all of these scenarios have in common is an underground hierarchy. Someone is the top dog and everyone else is not. But there's a quick, time-tested way to level the playing field and earn instant respect. It's the principle of "mind games." Let's look at an example:
Imagine it's your first day in prison. What's the first thing you do? Rearrange the cot in your cell? Organize your belongings and unpack your toothbrush? No. You go to the lunchroom and find the biggest, meanest, scariest inmate you can, walk directly up to him, and punch him in the face. Just like that everyone thinks "this guy is either really stupid or really crazy or both." Forget what happens as a result. The power dynamic has instantly shifted. People don't mess with you because you're unpredictable. They're not sure what's next. You make people uneasy and for that reason you're respected. But the principle doesn't always need to include physicality to be effective. Take your first day at a new job. One of the best ways to shift the power dynamic is to allow yourself to get "caught" in your office rocking back and forth, staring out the window with crazy eyes, and mumbling to yourself. People see this and think, "This guy's crazy. I'm not messing with him." Better yet, keep the door cracked while doing decline push ups off the edge of your desk in the middle of the afternoon. Mumble to yourself between sets and don't be afraid to occasionally lash out at the wall or another inanimate object. Instant respect.
So let's translate the principle to parenting. First off, I'm not advocating abuse. Far from it. What I'm advocating is keeping your kids on their toes. When kids act out they are testing your boundaries, so don't let them find the boundary. Here's how it works in our house:
No words were exchanged. We didn't dialogue about what he was doing or why that just happened. I just let it linger and then walked off. We didn't need to discuss it. We both knew what just happened. And I could see the wheels in his mind spinning as I turned to walk away and left him thinking to himself, "What was that!?! Man. DAD IS CRAZY."
Here's another one:
My son was throwing a tantrum upstairs about cleaning his room. I flew up the stairs three at a time, picked him up, and gave him the longest, loudest zerbet I could on his stomach. I did it with a hardcore serious face, never breaking character. Then I dropped him on his bed, pointed and nodded with a furrowed brow, and walked out. I paused around the corner outside his door and listened for the response. For a few moments it was quiet, then he huffed and puffed a few times and quietly began to pick up his cars. We didn't even have to discuss it. He got it: "Dad's in charge. He can lift me up whenever he wants and give me zerbets until he's blue in the face. He's the boss, I'm not, so it's time to get to work."
One more, just to show some variety:
My daughter was recently shouting at my wife in the kitchen, something to the effect of life not being fair and she wished she had new parents. She huffed away and starting stomping up the stairs. I took off in a dead sprint and when she saw me coming she ran for her life up the stairs, not sure what I was up to. I chased her like a gazelle into her room where she dove on her bed. She has a mass of pillows and stuffed animals on her bed and I started piling them on top of her as she angrily kicked them off. For every pillow she discarded with a swift kick I piled two or three more on top of her, building a tower. We continued at this for a few minutes, working up a good sweat as she flailed to get the pillows off and I worked double time to make sure she had at least three on top of her at a time. She finally gave in and let a little chuckle out, releasing the tension, and I calmly walked out and said, "Let me know when you're ready to talk." Five minutes later we addressed her commentary to my wife and it was all good, but not without her wondering in her mind, "What the heck was Dad doing burying me in pillows?! That was crazy ..."
Just like that instant respect was born. And guess what? When any of my kids begins to step out of line, whether in public or private, all I have to do now is furrow my brow and they instantly straighten up, because you never know what Dad may do. He is craaaaaazy.