War and peace

Will peace talks succeed? You never know, as a toddler’s parent   | Photo Credit: G R N SOMASHEKAR

As the parent of a toddler, one sometimes feels like a diplomat conducting never-ending peace talks in a war-torn region, with every simple task involving elaborate negotiations.

The trouble is, of course, that your toddler and you are essentially two nations with very different agendas forced to engage with each other constantly. Your toddler has a mind of her own, and has the verbal skills necessary to tell you exactly what she wants (actually, the only word she really needs is ‘no’). As her primary caregiver, you have very definite ideas about her needs, and are determined to do what’s best for her. What she wants and what you want is almost never aligned (soft-drink vs. milk, cartoons vs. bedtime etc.), so what you have is a stalemate, and the threat of a full-blown toddler mutiny looms ever so often.

This is when one’s diplomatic training comes to the fore. It is clear that you have to talk, and talk well to prevent unrest from breaking out. You must keep your cool and negotiate your way through the conflict. Because you know that once the uprising begins, it’ll be difficult to contain. We’re talking screaming tantrums in the middle of the supermarket or your child lying on top of the car and drumming her heels on the roof (true story) as horrified bystanders look on. And so you talk of incentives such as lollipops or play dates with the bestie. You paint the picture of a fun future filled with visits to the beach or blowing bubbles on the terrace or baking cake at home.

You present compromises disguised as glorious gifts. Because it isn’t enough to just offer these alternatives, you’ve really got to sell them. It’s in the eye contact you make, in the enthusiasm in your voice. As any diplomat worth his salt knows, it’s not just what you promise, it’s the way you tell it that seals the deal.

When the promises don’t work, you shift gears into threatening sanctions while still cajoling. The velvet glove is there, but the steel is showing. And when that too fails, well, the gloves come off, and you drag the child kicking and screaming out of whatever public space this negotiation took place in. This can be safely identified as the breakdown of dialogue between the two nations.

Here’s an illustration of the stages outlined above:

Stage 1:

“Put on your shorts, it’s time to go out!”

Stage 2:

“Put on your shorts! Your friend A is waiting for you. It’s going to be so much fun! You can ride your cycles together and there’s even going to be ice-cream! Ooooh, yummy chocolate ice-cream!”

Stage 3:

“Put on your shorts or we can’t go and see your friend A. He’s going to be SO sad. He’s waiting for you. But you can’t go without shorts! Big girls must wear their shorts!”

Stage 4:

“PUT ON YOUR SHORTS OR ELSE!” (Now, one parent holds down the child and the other pulls on the shorts as the child lets the entire apartment building know how upset she is about this gross infringement on her sovereignty. It ain’t pretty but then war never is)

Of course, there are always those days when there’s been one negotiation too many and your patience is shot to bits by night. At this point, you’re done playing at diplomacy, and you jump straight to stage four when the “I want juice not milk” argument begins. It never feels good to lose your temper with a two-year-old though. You feel wrung out, and she’s sobbing and looking nothing like the hard-nosed dictator she was a few minutes ago. It’s time for the warring nations to cuddle and make up, and a temporary truce comes into play.

The peace talks, naturally, will resume in the morning.


1.Try to follow through on promises. Kids are smart and they learn quickly whether to believe you.

2.Similarly, try and avoid empty threats.

3.When all fails and the meltdown occurs, keep calm and remain firm. And then treat yourself to a cup of camomile tea. Or three.

(Divya Kumar is a freelance journalist and stay-at home mom.)

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 12:03:30 AM |

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