Bad Butterflies

activitiesThis is a simple, energetic game for a group of kids about 2 and up. The kids are the bad butterflies, and the bad butterflies always do the opposite of what they’re told.

“You butterflies better not do any jumping up and down!” (They jump up and down.) “Oh no! They’re jumping! Well, they can jump, but they sure better not run around the climbing structure.” (They run around the structure.) “Oh, you are such bad butterflies! Well, maybe running is okay, but you bad butterflies better not give each other any hugs.” (They give hugs.) “Oh, you bad butterflies are hugging! No no no! Well… I guess hugging each other is okay, but you know who hates hugs? Teacher Lisa. Don’t you give Teacher Lisa any hugs!” (And so on…)

A few pro tips. First, it’s important to have an exit strategy. I like to end by telling them not to give me any hugs, and then when they do I realize they’re all good butterflies after all, and tell them to go play. In my experience many kids want to play this game forever, so once you say the game is over, it’s important to stick to it, or you’ll never get any peace. The game also tends to move pretty quickly—any action you tell them not to do is likely to last no more than 20 or 30 seconds, so it’s good to be thinking of the next thing ahead of time. I like to make this game as active as possible: do a lot of running, climbing, jumping, dancing, rolling, crawling, etc. Make sure not to get mixed up and tell them anything you actually want to forbid in real life. In the heat of the moment, it’s surprisingly easy to accidentally say, “You bad butterflies better not start throwing sand!” Oops.

The biggest tip has to do with the reservation about this game you’ve probably already thought of: aren’t you just encouraging disobedience? Don’t the kids become bad butterflies all the time and stop listening to you? Well, no, they don’t. First of all, this isn’t a game about not listening—it’s actually a game about listening very well. They aren’t ignoring you, they’re paying exquisite attention. (Secretly, kids who “aren’t listening” are often paying very good attention, but working hard at concealing it. That’s a topic for another time, though.)

Even more, this is another game about building children’s irony skills (like the Wrong Name Tags game). They know you’re kidding, and that’s why it’s okay to disobey. You can help by being super obvious that you’re playing. When you say No No No! make sure you shake your finger at them and stomp your foot and make a ridiculous face—make it huge! That way when the game is over and you’re actually telling them to stop in your regular, serious voice, they get that it’s real. And during the game if something happens—someone falls and gets hurt, for instance—your switch in attitude immediately alerts the kids that you’re not playing any more.

I’ve never had a child have much difficulty with reigning in the game when it’s time to be done. In fact, it’s not much fun if the adult isn’t really playing. I have had parents tell me the game is like a miracle tool for compliance at home: “You bad butterfly! I don’t want to see any tooth-brushing before bed time!”

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Have real-life problems with disobedience at home? I can help!

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One thought on “Bad Butterflies

  1. Betsy December 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm Reply

    This is so much more fun than just calling it reverse psychology!

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