parenting like a poker player
Parent like a poker player

Stuart Miles /

Mornings with kids are tough. Especially when one of your kids isn’t a morning person and she has to be on the bus to school for 7:40am. Last week was particularly difficult. Every morning since Monday, the very first words out of our daughter’t mouth were: “Is it the fin-de-semaine [weekend] yet?” With which I had to reply with a sympathetic, “No, sweetie. It’s Monday” and again with each day of the week thereafter.

Thursday night, out of the earshot of the kids, JF and I said that we would keep her home Friday so that she could get some rest and then we could all sleep in (7am, lets be realistic here). So, we settle in Thursday night hoping for a long, restful sleep.

At promptly 6:04 Friday morning, after a fitful night’s rest with our son, our daughter leaps out of bed and comes calling for us. Her first words? “Can I please PLEASE wear my new fishy t-shirt to school today? I want to show my friends!” I assessed her level of fatigue (non-existent) and then assessed how much energy I had to parent both her and her brother (non-existent) and replied, “Is that what you want to wear to school today?” She replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!” . Since we hadn’t mentioned anything about her not going to school, I was perfectly confident with her desire to go, and so she put on her new fishy shirt and proudly showed it to her friends as she waited for the bus to arrive.

We’ve learned the hard way that beginning from a very young age kids have a fantastic memory. They can tell when you’ve hidden a cookie behind your back so they don’t eat it right away; they can remember where you hid that obnoxiously loud toy they got in a loot bag four months ago, and they’ll call you out for not letting them play on the iPad like you let them do at Grandma’s house…last year.

Now, we parent more strategically. Rather than telling them everything we’re planning, we play our cards close to our chest. Anyone who plays poker (or has watched the game) knows that you don’t reveal what’s in your hand. The whole key to that game (coming from a two-time recreational player) isn’t playing the cards you actually have, it’s playing the cards they think you have. Now, you have to be very good at it, or else you’ll get found out. But thats part of the skill – and the fun.

Don’t misunderstand though, I’m not talking about lying to your kids. Lying would be telling them something that you have no intention of doing, or every intention of changing. Lying won’t help you gain trust with your kids or have an honest relationship. Holding your cards close means understanding that life (especially where kids are involved) is bound to change, and plans are made for changing.

Keeping kids slightly out of the loop at times can give parents the flexibility needed when sicknesses show up or when we as parents aren’t able to follow through with an intended plan. Young kids in particular aren’t often as schedule-happy as we are. At least for our children; it wouldn’t matter if we said we were going to the zoo in three days or three weeks, every day thereafter would be faced with the inevitable question, “Are we going to the zoo today?” Plus, imagine the excitement a child would experience when their parent began their day with this: “We’re going to the zoo today!” I can almost hear their squeals of delight as they rush to get their things together for the adventure.

There are certainly exceptions. Some children thrive on knowing exactly what is going to be happening in the near future. For those children, we recommend only revealing as much information as will help the child to mentally prepare, while also allowing yourself the ability to change plans if needed.

The reason we advocate for this is that kids have an aversion to change. Changing plans last minute on a child can often be like poking a bear with a stick. Teaching kids to be able to go with the flow is a valuable skill indeed, and one that can be achieved through other means such as changing the scheduled meal plan because of time constraints or adjusting which shoes they need to wear today based on the weather outside, i.e. small changes motivated by a explanation understandable to a child.

As with everything we do as parents, there is never a concept that is proven 100% of the time, and this doesn’t always work to our advantage. In our experience though, it has shown to be a lot more prudent to keep from revealing too much information than trying to back-pedal when change is needed. Keep your cards close and you may just win the jackpot, or at the very least save yourself a tantrum.

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