Beat your children (in playground games)

To make sense of our ever-more-complicated world, many people have turned to the simple lessons of childhood.

In books such as "Bullies: From the Playground to the Boardroom" and Robert Fulghum's best-selling "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," self-help gurus have applied basic child psychology to beleaguered adults' everyday worlds.

In an attempt to help all mankind (while also tearing off a piece of the lucrative self-help market), I'd like to assert that the simple rules of playground games can be used by parents in their day-to-day struggles with stubborn, spoiled, smart-aleck children.

The kids already know the playground rules. They respond when their peers use them. Why shouldn't we parents take advantage?

For example, you might say to your child, "Turn off that television and do your homework," a commandment a child can willfully ignore. But if you say, "Simon says turn off that television and do your homework," the child will jump up and hurry to obey.

Why is this? Because the child knows the consequences of behaving improperly in a game of "Simon Says." Don't do what Simon says, or do something when Simon hasn't ordered it, and the child is "out." Most playground games include such a penalty. Children do not want to be "out." They are so desperate to be included, they'll do most anything to keep from being put "out," including handing over their lunch money.

The key to parental use of these rules (and my self-help breakthrough) is that the child must be made to understand a different meaning of "out." When a parent threatens to put the child "out," the parent doesn't mean "out" as in out of the game. The parent means "out" as in "unconscious." Once this distinction is made clear, you'll find that children quickly become easier to manage.

Here are some other playground games you could find handy:

Red Light, Green Light. When you catch your child in the act of misbehaving, say, "Red light!" The child will freeze immediately. This is particularly useful when the child is doing something dangerous to himself or others. Once the peril has passed, you can free the child by saying, "Green light!" Warning: Overuse of "red light!" can make the child flinchy.

Red Rover. Parents should stand near the front door and chant, "Red Rover, Red Rover let (Insert name of child's pesky friend or "bad influence" here) come over." When the friend tries to enter, parents should lock arms and form a human wall to stop him. If it requires knocking down the visitor, so be it. Them's the rules.

Tag. This playground favorite has multiple uses. First of all, there's "Not it," a phrase that's useful whenever you don't want to volunteer to do something. (See also: Hot Potato.) Second, you can "tag" your child whenever it's his turn to take out the trash, etc. If the child doesn't obey, "tag" him harder. This can escalate until the child is "out."

Hide and Seek. A handy game whenever you need a moment of peace and quiet. Tell the child he is "it," and assign him to hide his eyes and count to 100 (or 1,000, if the child is particularly gullible). While he's counting, you can "hide" somewhere peaceful, such as the neighborhood bar. (See also: Hopscotch.) In extreme cases, you can use the counting time to pack a small bag for your getaway.

Try these simple playground rules with your own children, and you'll soon see real improvement in domestic harmony.

Even if it doesn't work, you can still profit from the attempt. Make the kids hand over their lunch money.

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