when you should arm wrestle your child

I love bluegrass music.

There, I said it and now I can get back to living my life. It feels so good to finally get that off my chest.

It all started in my teenage years when I decided that I wanted to play the banjo. I have no idea why I wanted to play the banjo but I did, so I bought one and started practicing. I practiced for years. I gave it up when I realized that it was just too loud to play around the campfire. So I moved on to learn to play the guitar…the campfire standard. When I got to the same skill level on the guitar I had achieved on the banjo, I once again switched instruments. This time to my current fascination, the mandolin. When someone plays the mandolin, I think I unconsciously drool. I so wish I could play the mandolin in a bluegrass band.

But alas, I will never play the banjo, guitar, or mandolin in a bluegrass band. Unless of course, there is a new genre of bluegrass where the band only plays three chords…slowly. That’s right, three instruments, many years of practice, and only three chords on each. As much as I wanted to be a musician, it just wasn’t in the cards. My practice habits were probably a bit lacking.

Some people have the same experience with drawing and painting. They really want to be good at it, but it’s just not in the cards. They want to paint portraits but struggle with stick figures. How else do you explain the top two books on Amazon’s “Top Sellers” list? The top two books are both coloring books for grownups. I kid you not. And, get this, they are both currently sold out. Coloring books and their cousin “paint by numbers” allow everyone to dabble in being artistic. I love this country.


Coloring with your kids is like working puzzles or playing with Legos…they’re timeless. They’ve stood the test of time, and all ages can jump in. Coloring is relaxing and fun, and it allows our kids to explore their creative side at an early age. It’s also a perfect opportunity to just talk…about whatever comes to mind.

Another great thing about coloring is that you do not have to ask your kids if they want to color with you. Just start coloring, call your children in, and ask them if they like your picture. If you happen to have a brand new box of “64” and a new coloring book from their favorite movie sitting on the table, they are sucked in like a black hole. It’s as close as we’ll ever come to experiencing the Jedi mind trick. It happens to them so quick they have no idea that it was you, the parent, who sucked them in. It’s a beautiful thing.


There are several ways that we could take coloring to another level. You could order some custom coloring books (there’s some at frecklebox.com). You could mount a frame somewhere in your home where you could display your child’s most recent creation (tell me they wouldn’t feel proud). You could make a “rule” where every time someone changes crayon colors they have to eat an M&M. You could listen to the soundtrack from the movie that you’re coloring pictures of. You could mail a completed picture and a note to the grandparents. You could get a countdown timer and every time it goes off, you switch pictures.

But here’s what I want to suggest: compete with your child over the same crayon. Here’s what I mean: first, sit in close proximity to your child. Watch them out of the corner of your eye, and when you see them reach for a specific color, you reach for it too. Act surprised when you both grab the same crayon and then suggest that you have a contest to see who gets to use that crayon. What type of contest? Arm wrestling. Whoever wins gets the crayon. If you win, you probably need to reevaluate your role as a parent. When they are “victorious” they will think this is “the best thing since sliced bread.” If arm wrestling won’t work, challenge them to an eating contest. The first one to finish a cookie and show their empty mouth wins the use of the crayon. Again, you are not “in it to win it.”

Warning: you might catch your child looking out of the corner of their eye to see what crayon you’re going for next.


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