It’s incredible to observe how our parenting and discipline methods have changed over each generation. “Children should be seen and not heard,” doesn’t seem to the be the mantra of many families I work with these days. With good reason too: this type of mindset grows children into adults who recoil from expressing their emotions, and instead harbor and process them alone, if at all.
It seems that, broadly speaking, we have come a long way and now encourage children to respectfully share their emotions without fear of repercussions. Though sometimes this can lead to children going too far the other direction, shouting their desires and having major tantrums when they don’t get what they want.
So where is the balance between silent inner turmoil, and an all-out meltdown? Finding it can be the difference between inner chaos and outward peace in your family. Here are a few phrases I personally incorporate into my lexicon, and in which scenarios I use them.
1. “Tell me more about that.”
I use this phrase mostly when children are beginning to open up but have hit a wall. Perhaps they feel that they’ve said enough, or they don’t know if they’re allowed to, or should, say more. This phrase shows them that I am interested and attentive, and encourages them to speak their minds.
2. “It sounds like you worked really hard/really enjoyed that, right?”
Affirmation! When I reflect back my impressions of their feelings, they tend to either clarify or expand. It’s wonderful to hear, “Yeah, I did!! And I even tried to…” This only strengthens our bond, and their trust in me as a caregiver.
3. “I noticed/heard/believe…”
This may be taken two ways: when noticing their actions, or when noticing something in the environment that you want to share with them. Once, with a 6 year old girl I was taking care of, I said, “I noticed that you’ve been drawing a lot lately. Would you like it if we went somewhere new together and drew what we will see?” This elated her. The thought that I saw something she was doing and was interested in drawing too clearly meant a lot to her -- our little outing was all she talked about for the next week.
4. “I hear you.”
This one is a killer! It’s extremely handy to keep in your back pocket for when you experience the Broken Record Syndrome (I’m positive it’s got to be a clinical condition by now). When children repeat themselves over and over, they are typically wanting attention rather than solutions. This frees you up, because if you were able to provide the solution, they likely would get what they need and wouldn’t need to keep carrying on. This phrase comes in handy for, “Yeah, but I just want to,” or for when you’re out and about, on your way home, and the snack has already been eaten and, “I’m hungry,” keeps persisting. Of course, you wouldn’t scold your child for having hunger; scolding them for expressing it is counter productive. “I hear you,” acknowledges and accepts, and isn’t shaming, angry, frustrated, irritated, or mocking.
5. “Do you remember when I said/what I said about…”
This one is a slightly more respectful way of asking for recall, rather than exploding, “Did you hear what I said?!” Remember, if we want children to be respectful, we must model it first. I like to use this when I’ve already given an answer and I don’t want to lecture or nag. In my experience, I haven’t had much luck with getting children to follow along with what I need them to do if I’m just saying it over and over with annoyance in my voice.
Here’s a sample of a typical conversation I may have, incorporating some of these phrases to help diffuse a situation before it becomes major.
Child: “Can I go over to Aiden’s for a playdate?
Me: “Today isn’t a good day because we have to run these errands and make dinner.” (Answer is clear, not lecturing nor overloaded with information.)
Child: “Ughhh... but I want to go to Aiden’s for a playdate.”
Me: “I hear you on that, but do you remember why I said we can’t… what I said we were doing this evening?” (Affirming, and understanding. Asking for child to recall what was stated, instead of repeating yourself again.)
Child: “Oh… We have to run errands.”
Me: “That’s right. What about another day for a playdate? Would you like it if I talked to his parents about setting up a playdate?” (Affirming, and empowering -- you’re giving your child the option to either pick another day, or just be upset about today not working out. Today is still not an option.)
I find that when I practice and model respectful, accepting language with children, I rarely have power struggles and have a nice balance of peace and calm throughout the day. Try them out (multiple times) and notice their effects!
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