A MAGICIAN FATHER TEACHES US HOW TO AVOID TANTRUMS
How to apply magic to parenting...
How to deal with a toddler tantrum with the help of a big of magic
Ah magic! For some it conjures up the heady days of Vaudeville; a master magician in a top hat making elephants disappear. For others it’s a slightly embarrassing man in a tux pulling coins from behind your ear. For me, writes James Went, it’s been a wonderful job which has enabled me to travel the country, meet some great people and even get my face on TV. I am completely in love with it. Even the cringeworthy bits which, however difficult to watch, add to the glorious aesthetic.
However, the greatest miracle I’ve ever experienced is my little girl, Ava (pictured above). I’m completely aware of how cliched that sounds, but anyone with kids can appreciate the multifaceted awe of parenthood. And, as a magician, I have noticed a crossover between entertaining an audience and entertaining a little one. Moreover, magicians’ tactics can also be very helpful in avoiding tantrums, and dealing with them when they arise. This is what magic has taught me about parenting a toddler…
1. And For My First Trick…
In the sepia-toned days of the travelling conjuring it was de rigueur for the magician to state exactly what was going to happen before the trick had taken place. ‘I will cause this elephant to evaporate spontaneously into thin air’ etc. When applied to parenting, it’s a very useful tactic to avoid tantrums. Prior to carrying out a trip to the shops, or any one of the infinite activities that can provoke an all-out sensory attack, try sitting your little one down and explaining PRECISELY what’s going to happen and why. ‘In a moment we’re going to the shops, so that when Granny comes over we can treat her to some cakes with her tea.’ Your child will now have an idea planted in their head of a definite outcome and a small period of time to allow that to sink in before the action is carried out. Therefore it won’t come as a shock when they have to leave the house halfway through another thrilling instalment of Peppa Pig.
2. Embrace Wonder
Your child is constantly experiencing things for the first time without a full understanding of why things are the way they are, or what the correct function for a given item is. While this can seem tiresome when your toddler shows the depth of interest in a drain cover normally reserved for a particle physicist coming face-toface with the Higgs Boson, remember that to them it’s equally as new and exciting as the aforementioned particle. As a magician, it’s important to approach the world in a similar vein. What, to most people is a drinking straw or elastic band, to the magician is the potential for a new routine or a diabolical method for a connected feat of wonder. Adulthood conditions you to be uninterested in the norm, don’t be.
3. Creating an ‘Act’
A professional magician would never dream of turning up to an engagement and just ‘doing tricks’. Most of us have spent years crafting a select number of pieces to be performed in a sequence for you to enjoy. We have ‘openers’, ‘multiphase routines’ and ‘closers’. Kids similarly crave the same structure. My wife (a miracle in her own right) implemented a bedtime routine for Ava very early on; dinner, play, bottle, bath, story, then bed. Ava now knows that every evening, these are the order of events and as a result doesn’t fight it. She knows what comes next and bedtime is a stress-free experience.
4. Master (Mis)direction
Most people have heard of magicians using misdirection to perform their tricks. However, I think that the term is often misunderstood; even by many magicians. In order to effectively carry out a ‘secret move’ when performing a trick, it is necessary to direct the audience’s attention towards something interesting rather than misdirecting away from the hidden move. I’m completely aware of the pernickety nature of the above statement, however, it highlights an important element of magical theory (yes such a thing exists). Similarly, your child will inevitably be drawn to things that aren’t suitable to play with/eat/break. By simply stating ‘No! Don’t play with that’, all you’ll achieve is a heightened urgency that makes the forbidden object more desirable to your little one. Your misdirection from the object will fail. However, by directing their attention towards something more suitable by doing something funny with it, he/she will forget about the unsuitable item and their interest will be transferred elsewhere. Admittedly this doesn’t always work, kids can be really shitty when they want to be, but it’s a good starting point.
5. Learn a Vanish
I thought I’d end by suggesting a practical magical method. There are so many magical sleights and secret moves that you can learn. However, in two years of parenting the one thing I continually return too is the humble ‘vanish’. While it’s not ethical to give you an actual method for carrying out such a move here, I strongly suggest learning a very simple coin vanish (which can be applied to other small objects). As a tip, the particularly effective ones are best carried out while sitting at a table. It’ll come in very useful when your little one wants something that they’re not allowed. Rather than saying ‘No’, make the object vanish then feign bewilderment as to where the object went. If you don’t have it, then it doesn’t exist right?