Of course my toddler is an unparalleled joy. But that’s just part of her battle armor. She’s cunning, charming, and a formidable opponent in the battle of wills – meals, naptime, and especially bedtime.

Finding the right tactics to advance my cause and not lose my cool in the process is key. As Sun Tzu famously said, if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. We’ve had at least that many.

Since becoming a parent, I have worked hard to think like my adversary, the toddler, and at times to employ the kinds of tactics that she would use. It’s the only appropriate reaction I can find to the sort of irregular warfare she embraces. Here are seven ways in which I have employed toddler tactics in my interactions with my two-year-old. 

1 | Following her with her own stuffed animals

My toddler has a strong bond with her stuffed animals. Sometimes I have them follow her around endlessly demanding juice and cookies. I can see this exasperates her, as she increasingly tells them to be patient. So far, I am winning.

Eventually though, she gets wise to this and orders them to play with their toys so she can get some “work” done. I enjoy this, but within the hour, she’s back to doing the same to me. Irony, of course, is a concept kids learn later in life.

2 | Secretly laughing to myself

Sometimes I don’t know why she’s laughing, and it always makes me a little apprehensive. Sometimes she doesn’t know why I’m laughing either. My toddler likes to hold tea parties with her animals and serve them real food. More than once, she has unknowingly served bacon to Peppa Pig and hamburger to Bevo the longhorn. If she sees me laughing in the corner, she doesn’t have to know why. What she doesn’t know can’t hurt her.

3 | Pretending not to understand

On occasion, my charming toddler can be a tad rude. Sometimes, when she’s angrily demanding something, I look at her like I can’t understand a word, as if she’s speaking French. This frustrates her, but she’s learning how to respond. When the word “please” comes out, I suddenly understand everything she says. It’s amazing how that happens.

4 | Giving voices to her stuffed animals

She loves throwing her stuffed animals all over the place, in part because it drives me crazy. Recently I’ve started making them scream “ouch” when she throws them. At first, she looked horrified, but now she enjoys giving them band aids and telling them she’s sorry. It was just for a laugh at first, but I’m glad it seems to be teaching her some empathy.

5 | Singing children’s songs

Sometimes I sing the Caillou theme song, even when she’s not in the mood for it (which to be honest is very rare, but it does happen). I decide that if I’ve had to listen to it enough to memorize the words, I should get to annoy her with it sometimes, too. I’ll be honest. This doesn’t have much benefit for either of us. But it does make me smile, and morale is half the battle.

6 | Playing dumb

Sometimes, when I want her to sit down with a game, I like to pretend that I cannot for the life of me figure out how to put her puzzles together. It’s amazing to see how frustrated she can get, like I’m her worst student. “Nooooo! It’s like thiiiiis!” she says as she joins me at the table. Excellent. But suddenly I’m having flashbacks to high school math class, so I stop.

7 | Sharing my drink

She’s always trying to feed me her juice. On occasion, I’ll let her try something I know she won’t like either, just to see her reaction, like a sip of my unsweetened iced coffee. But the final lesson I have to remember is never to underestimate the adversary, even when you love her to pieces. She spits it out all over. Touché.