Hooray for Captain Underpants. The series of books, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey, is a wonder. Heralded by parents of reluctant readers everywhere, the series has become a must-read for my 8-year-old daughter, Holly.
She picked the curiously titled paperback, “Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants,” out of a book bin last summer and was immediately smitten. Not since she read the Junie B. Jones series have I seen her so engrossed in reading. I’d worried she might never know the pleasure that a love of reading can inspire, but I’ve never forced the issue by requiring that she read for a minimum number of minutes. As it turned out, there was nothing mysterious about Holly’s indifference. She just hadn’t yet discovered the books that were right for her.
This discovery reminds me of my husband, who took piano lessons as a child. He recalls wanting to play pop and rock songs but finally quit, after a year and a half of lessons, because his teacher only gave him classical pieces to learn. He was bored.
Pilkey writes about crunchy boogers, purple potties, wedgies and other irreverent subjects appealing to kids. His books have actually been banned by those who worry they’ll encourage children to challenge authority. All the books have done in my house is encourage my child to read. That’s the point, isn’t it?
Parents often lament the challenges they face in getting their children to do various things, but Captain Underpants challenges us to consider that perhaps strategizing about how we can coerce our children into doing what we want them to do is missing the mark. I don’t care if Holly reads the phone book, Nancy Drew or tales about pranksters and purple potty people-as long as she reads.
Sometimes we must pick our battles.
Likewise, when my goal was to encourage physical activity and I asked Holly what sort of dance class she wanted to take, my fantasies of watching her dance the role of Clara in The Nutcracker went up in smoke when she said, “Hip-hop.”
It’s not about me, after all.
Food issues are a common source of power struggles for many families. Holly tends not to be very hungry in the mornings before school, but as long as the food she chooses is nutritious, I don’t care what my daughter puts in her tummy. When the kids and I tire of taking turns at the blender playing our “guess what I put in the smoothies today” game, they choose soup or even leftover noodles for breakfast if more traditional breakfast fare doesn’t appeal.
At least they’re starting their motors and fueling up for a long day at school. Isn’t that the point? If it’s not, what’s the struggle really about?
Promote good nutrition but bend on the particulars. Surprise your kids with “upside-down days” where you serve dinner for breakfast and vice versa. Involving your children in the process can make a huge difference. You want them to eat their veggies? Let them choose at the market. Better yet, pull out the seed catalogues and pore over them this fall with your kids, then let them get dirty planting and tending what sprouts next spring. You’ll be amazed by the eagerness that blossoms at your dinner table.
If we value what makes life interesting for our children and realize that we really can achieve a win/win if we flex on the details, our struggles with them will usually evaporate. It’s OK if our children never dance The Nutcracker as long as they dance to their own beat.
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Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com.