Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Speak Kid: When I Was Little...

Whoops!  Forgot to ever post this here on my own blog! I originally posted this as a guest post over on Welcome to the Mouse House.

Here it is:

Normally I blog about the typical day-to-day stuff - organization, recipes, crafts, etc., but today I'm going to touch on an idea I've found helpful in parenting. This post will be the first of a series I'm starting on my blog called "How to Speak Kid," about how to talk to your kids so that they'll (hopefully) listen, do what you ask, and grow up to be pretty cool people while they're at it. I'm not promising magic, but hopefully it'll give you some new tools for your parenting toolbox. As a mother of 3 and a full-time teacher, I'm always on the lookout myself for new ways to manage behavior and understand kids!

Today's Tip: Use stories about your younger self to help kids understand their feelings and handle disappointment

Me, circa 1988 or so...

No, I'm not going to say to start out by saying, "You think you have it bad? I had to walk to school a mile each day in the snow! And it was uphill both ways!" This is different - sometimes I tell my kids stories about myself when I was little as a sneaky parenting technique. One way I use this technique is when I think they're not really thinking through or being honest about how they feel, for whatever reason. It opens their minds to a different way of looking at a situation, without being made to feel like I'm ordering them to think about it that way. I also use it to empathize with them, to help them to know that I understand how they feel, and sometimes that can go a long way in healing a broken heart.
For instance, my 7-year-old daughter recently wanted to go to a sleepover that her Girl Scout Troop was having. I didn't feel comfortable with this, since she's never had a real sleepover before, and doesn't really know her leaders all that well yet.

I picked her up at 10pm, and I could tell she was disappointed. As she was brushing her teeth back at home, she asked why she wasn't able to stay like the other girls. I knew that if I said, "I was worried you'd be scared," she would immediately respond, "I wouldn't be scared!" So instead I said, "Well, I was just thinking about when I was 7. I'm not saying you would feel this way, but when I was 7, I would have been really nervous to spend the night at someone's house that I didn't know very well." She looked down at the ground, silent and thinking. "If I had had an accident in the night, or woke up with a stomach ache, I wouldn't have felt very comfortable going to wake up a grown-up to help me if I didn't know them very well yet. Of course I was fine sleeping over with my cousins, just like you are, but for me it just felt a little bit different when I didn't know the adults very well yet. Anyway, maybe you wouldn't feel that way, but that's what I was thinking about when I said no." "Well," she said softly, "I actually probably would feel that way." And that was the last I heard about the disappointment.

For some reason, this technique seems to give my kids permission to say that they feel the way they really do, or to look at a situation from a different perspective.

I also use this technique a lot to relate to my kids, and help them know that I really relate to their disappointment. For instance, when my oldest is feeling jealous of my youngest, I might say, "You know, when I was little, it was really hard for me when people would always tell my little sister how cute she was, just because she was the baby. Do you ever feel like that?" I feel like I've hit the momma payday when she looks up at me, her eyes lighting up and says, "Yes!" in that voice like, You get it, don't you?

Or, when my kids are feeling bad because their cousins just got a cool toy that they wanted: "When I was little, it was really hard for me when my friends got cool new stuff, even if I knew I'd get to play with it at their house. That can be tough, huh?" 

For some reason, this is so much more effective with my kids than saying, "Oh honey, you're cute too! People just make a big deal over Claire because she's the baby!" Or, "Different kids get different toys. You'll be able to play with that Lego set over at Carter's house any time you want!"

The caveat here is that you're not trying to lead them into feeling something different. I'm not trying to brainwash them into feeling a certain way, I use this when I know how they feel, and I want them to either recognize it, or know that I understand it.

So the next time you're helping your kids to handle disappointment or sadness, think about your own childhood. What experiences can you draw from to show them that you understand how they are feeling, or to help them understand their feelings?

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