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?  

1 comment:

  1. I just read this and realized that sometimes I just don't feel like gently grabbing my child to guide him to where I need him to be. But if I did that more often, it would save me a lot of headaches. Thank you for posting this e ample. It helps to see where we could be doing things differently.