My cousin is a full-time nanny, and she recently posted a hilarious video on Instagram in which she and her five-year-old charge engaged in a lively debate about Doc McStuffins. It ended in uproarious laughter by all parties. The caption under the video read, “Sometimes, you’ve got to rattle the cage a little.” So true.

I’ve got to say, I just can’t play it straight with my own kids, either. I’ve never accepted an imaginary cup of tea that I didn’t immediately spit out and berate in a British accent (a trick I learned from my dad). Those cheeky kids are always adding “pepper” to the tea! The reactions from a child on a tea accepted and a tea sent back are wildly different; the playful rejection sparks laughter—and an added layer of imagination. They giggle all the way to the play kitchen, stir up a new cup and approach with a wicked grin. They whisper on the sly, “This one has a frog in it, mommy.” Tea parties just got more fun for everyone. You’re welcome.

My husband shares this quality; he frequently changes the story lines of books at bedtime to catch the children unawares. Mouse and Bear are sweet friends who enjoy playing in the springtime, until the end of the story: “…and then Bear ate Mouse, and Mouse was delicious!” This is followed by boisterous protests and a game of Attack the Daddy.

I would NEVER advocate frustrating your kids. Not cool. But there’s something about adding a little adversity, pushing back and giving them a chance to work around an unexpected obstacle. I like to think of it as creating slightly skeptical, problem-solving kids with a lively sense of humor. All are virtues in my book.

So the next time you extend your hand to let a little kid give you five, use my go-to—“Is that all you’ve got?”—and watch what happens. Next time you meet a four-year-old, ask them if they’re 23. With your own children, surprise them with a startling twist of events. Watch their rascally and creative minds at work. It is all the reward you’ll need to give the cage a healthy rattle once in a while.


Susana Fletcher is a mother of three, writer and blogger. Her favorite artistic medium is sarcasm.

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