Saturday, January 31, 2015

Try Leaving Out The Word “Okay,” Okay?

“Sally, it time to get out of the pool and go now. Okay?”
Dad is speaking. He has already showered and is dry. Sally is 5 years old.
“Sally, you need to get out and shower so we can go, okay?”
“Sally, come here and I’ll help you out so we can shower.”
(Sally swims farther away.)
“I’m gonna count to three. One...two...three...”
Sally stays out of reach.
“Come on Sally, we have to go, okay?”
“Don’t make me count again.”

This monologue went on from Dad until finally he went back in, grabbed Sally, and carried her out. She was crying, he was clearly angry. As an observer I could see that this interaction did not go well for either Dad or Sally. I wonder how long either or both of them were charged up and angry with each other? Have you ever been in a similar situation?

The basics seemed to be:
  1. Sally wanted to stay in the pool
  2. Dad wanted to leave.
Some observations:
  1. Dad did not acknowledge what Sally wanted.
  2. Dad finished a number of his sentences with the word ‘okay’ while rising in pitch.
  3. It wasn’t okay with her. She did not comply.
  4. Dad’s counting seemed to have some implied consequence that did not manifest.
Dad, I have some suggestions. Feel free to take them up or not next time. Try saying something like, “Sally, I know you want to stay in the pool. I’m sorry we have to go. We’ll come back again soon.” Acknowledge her feeling, but do not try to fix it. Occasional sadness is an inevitable part of life.

As an experiment, try leaving out the word “okay,” okay? When we end a sentence with okay it becomes a question. I don’t think Dad was offering the option of not getting out of the pool, but the way he used language made it seem like a question. When we ask a question, we have to be prepared to accept a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer. How about, “I want you to get out of the pool now.” “I need to get us home for dinner.”

I remember one morning when my youngest had been playing in the living room. She was about 3 years old. I had an appointment and had to bring her with me, and I like to leave the house tidy when I go, especially the common areas like the living room. I looked around at the toys and cloths and clothes and said, “You need to clean up this stuff so we can go.”

A flash of realization zapped my head. AHA! She did not need to clean up, it was my need. I had a need for tidiness and a need to be on time for my appointment. Neither of those were her agenda, needs or values. It was my agenda. Now, I try to own my needs when I speak. “I need to go soon.” “I need the house to be tidy.” You get the idea. Sally did not have the need for getting out of the pool. It was Dad’s need.

And what is this counting thing. I have heard many parents and teachers use this count down (or up) method of attempted behavior control. To me there is an implied punishment if what the adult wants the child to do (or stop doing) doesn’t happen in time. It is a veiled threat. I am not an advocate of threatening to get the behaviors I want to see. 

In the swimming pool story, it was an ‘idle threat.’ There was no ‘punishment’ awaiting Sally’s non-compliance. And Sally knew it, based on previous interactions with her dad. Maybe Sally likes to hear her dad count. Maybe she is just learning how to count and she enjoys hearing her dad filling in that hard-to-remember number ‘two?’

I have no idea what was going on inside either Dad’s or Sally’s feelings and thoughts. I do know the interaction was unsatisfying for them both and did not serve to develop their connection.

So, I’d like to offer a do-over for Dad and Sally at the pool.

5 minutes before getting-out-of-pool time. Dad and Sally are both still in the pool. “Sally, we are going to get out and shower soon. It’s almost time for dinner.”

Dad and Sally are both still in pool 5 minutes later. “Sally, we’re getting out now.” Sally cries, “I don’t want to get out.”

Dad, “I know you don’t want to get out. You love the pool. We’ll be back again.”
Perhaps Dad has to carry Sally out of the pool (they are both still in pool). She cries, he says, “I know your are sad. I love the pool too. It is time to go home for dinner and we’ll be back again.” And off to the showers they go.

End of discussion. Sally can cry more if she needs to. Crying is natural when we grieve for what we want and don’t get. Dad is caring, he acknowledges Sally’s feeling. And he is firm and not giving options when there aren’t any.

It’s not easy to change habits. (See some of my previous posts.) If we examine our interactions in the clear light of objectivity, it can give the impetus we need to make the changes we want to see in ourselves. We all want connection, especially with our children. So I offer these suggestions to make connecting easier, and steer clear of potential obstacles to connection. All habitual reaction does not foster connection. We simply are not there to connect with. When we can be more mindful and alert to what is going on, we can be present to connecting. And that is what our children truly long for!

P.S. What do you think about this? Do you have any scenarios that could use a do-over and you need some ideas?  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Let’s Get Real

Some of you have heard me say this before; There is no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and not appropriate, okay and not okay, and should and shouldn’t. There I said it - on the internet.

What do I mean? All those terms describe opinions about actions, and usually they are opinions that have been adopted from others including parents, religions, and cultures. They do not help resolve personal challenges and they do not speak of what is true for the individual having the interaction. When communicating with someone when things didn’t go the way you wanted, all of the above mentioned terms are opinions and do not help to effectively resolve problems and change behaviors.

When things don’t go they way you wanted, I suggest you let the other person know what is truly true for you. Did you like or not like what occurred? Let them know that. That reveals to the other something of your self, what is real and true for you. That is what it means to be “authentic.”

This applies whenever things do not go the way you want and you are trying to communicate that to someone else - whatever their age. You all know that my focus is young children and how to truly connect with them. I think the advice in this post speaks to all ages with which you could be interacting, though when the interaction is adult to adult perhaps you could use a few more words to fill in the picture. With young children, try to get your point across in very FEW words - a dozen or less!

And one more piece of advice, when you are letting someone else know what you do not like, focus on the activity you don’t like rather than on the person who did the thing you don’t like. They are more likely able to receive what you are saying that way.

Perhaps your three year old walks over when you are talking on the phone and hits you. You, “I don’t like hitting.” (Probably she is wanting some attention, some connecting.) What a different experience than, “I don’t like you hitting me.” Also different than, “It’s not okay to hit.” “You shouldn’t hit.”

(Additionally you could offer some words you would like your child to imitate some next time, “Excuse me Mommy.” You could say these words on your child’s behalf over and over until eventually the are taken up in imitation by your child.)

(And you could consider how much time you are spending on your 'devices' while in your child's presence.)

More than once I have overheard teachers say to a young child, “We don’t hit here.” That can’t be true because I had just seen one child hit another. What is true is, “Teacher does not like hitting.”

To the child flicking paint all around with her paintbrush, and it is getting on other children’s paper, “I don’t like when the paint goes onto someone else’s paper.” Or, on behalf of a child, “Sally doesn’t like other people painting on her paper.”

“I don’t like running inside. We can run outside.”

“The dog doesn’t like his tail to be pulled.”

“I like everyone to sit at the table until we all are done eating.”

You get the idea. You likely will have to do the same sort of thing many, many times before it sinks in as a communication habit or strategy for the young children. Changing habits takes time (see my previous recent posts).

Young children love their parents, and they love their teachers and caregivers. When you tell them what is real for you, what you don’t like, that means something for them. They do want to please you even if they have habits you don’t like and that are hard to change. If you mention that an action they did is something you don’t like, they are more likely to change than if you tell them that it is 'bad,' or 'not okay', or 'inappropriate.'

When having an interaction with someone when things didn’t go the way you wanted, opinions don’t help. When you reveal to someone what you don’t like, you are revealing who you are, you are exposing your own values. Really, there is no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and not appropriate, okay and not okay, and should and shouldn’t. 

I really want to know what you think about this. Please comment - how about a dialog on this?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Resolve

It is the start of another year. For me it is a time of both looking ahead and looking back. As I review my activities, I can celebrate many things. I also can see some things in hindsight that I would have done differently. That is always the opportunity with new beginnings - to see what you might choose to do differently. It is part of the development of self awareness to attempt to know yourself, see yourself, and honestly consider what you have said and done. Are there things to change? Are there choices that lead to more kindness? Can you become more noble? Can you develop the inner strength to accomplish what you set out to do?

That is how the past can lead us into the future. We can see what we want to change, and then take hold of what is needed to make those changes. When we really commit to making the changes, that is called resolve. Often “New Year’s Resolutions” are superficial and we lack the commitment to bring them about. When we engage our will in looking back, seeing what we want to change, and actually making the changes, then we have resolve. Resolve is the firm determination to do something.

When I think about the word resolve, it separates into two ideas. One is to solve. We all have challenges and problems that call for solutions. Looking back over the year, we can see some of our attempted solutions weren’t so successful. When we re-solve, we are choosing a different solution to the same sort of challenges and problems from the past. We are solving again. And because we are unsatisfied with previous results, we are determined for a new solution. We have the resolve to make the changes.

If we honestly look back over our relating and connecting with young children, we can see our successes and situations where we might choose a different result. I often speak about the importance of reviewing the day for getting insight into what causes us to ‘lose it.’ Once we discover our own ‘buttons’ it already makes it less likely that they can be activated. And once we truly resolve to change, we can start taking the steps toward changing ourselves.

At the beginning of this year 2015, I suggest choosing one or two specific actions to resolve to put into practice. Too many and the likelihood of those actions taking root is diminished. You may have already found something you want to bring into your life of relating with young children. If not, I offer several simple practices for your 
consideration. See if any of the following suggestions speak to you:

This first practice is using an acronym as a mantra. I found this acronym on someone’s blog, and I wish I could give credit to the author but alas I did not note where I read it and now cannot find the source. W.A.I.T. - Why am I talking? Take this mantra as a moment of pause when your reaction pattern tries to kick in, as your button has been pressed. Say it over and over and over. WAIT. What do I want to say? Do I need to say anything? What if I take one breath or two or three, before saying or doing anything? Can I shorten whatever I think needs saying into it’s essential few words to get across to my young child what I really want? Do I even need to intervene in this at all? Why aren’t I thinking? W.A.I.T.

The second practice is to embody feelings of peace and strength, so when you need them they are accessible. Take a quiet few minutes for yourself a couple of times a day. Use the bathroom as a place of quiet and privacy if you need. Do this either with eyes open or shut. When you have your quiet space, fill it with thinking about peace and inner strength. What are those qualities for you? What do they feel like? Embody these feelings of strength and peace, meaning let them wash over and through your physical body. Let it pour into you, filling your heart and then raying out into all parts of you. What does that feel like? Embody those feelings. Practice daily and really feel it in your body. This embodying of positive feeling changes your neurology to be able to be more present, calm and strong when the going gets tough.

The third practice is to allow those to whom you relate to have their feelings without you needing to ‘fix it’ for them. Accept and acknowledge their feelings, and in your response keep their feelings separate from their actions. When your child is melting down, or whining for something, or having a tantrum, simply acknowledge what they are feeling. “You really wanted ice cream.” “You want to go with Mommy.” If you affirm what they are feeling, they will feel heard and that is a deep magic. Try it and see. At breakfast today, my partner Leslye and I were talking, and she mentioned it is the same with adults. I agree. If the other in an interaction listens to us and reflects back to us what we are feeling, we feel heard. They don’t have to agree with our wants or ideas, but being heard is a powerful magic for everyone. Read Janet Lansbury’s post on this theme. 

So, it is a new year and new opportunities await us to make our selves into the parent, the human being, we want to be. I offer these practices as support for your resolve over the coming months. I wish you all the strength, peace and creativity you need to meet the challenges that await you.