WTF?

little kid cryingBe honest.  What’s your first reaction when your child walks over and knocks down the Lego tower her brother has just spent the last ten minutes building? Or how about when your son is flipping like a fish in the grocery store aisle because you said no to the sugary cereal—again?

Let me guess.  Do you yell?  Do you put her in time-out?  Do you lecture, threaten, punish?  All of the above?  Do you casually push your cart past the melt-down in the cereal aisle pretending you don’t know the small creature writhing about?

Trust me, I know how difficult it is to keep yourself together when you child is “misbehaving” or “losing it.”  Not too long ago, it wasn’t uncommon, while Krogering, for the manager to open a special check-out line just for me in order to expedite getting me and my screaming banshee out of there!

But what I have found over the years is that the strategies listed above have several unintended results. Namely, (a) they tend to exacerbate the problem instead of solve it (especially with a strong-willed child), (b) they don’t help the child think about what they’ve done…or why…or how they might solve the problem differently next time, and (c) they don’t help parents feel competent and effective.

What I suggest instead is to get curious.  WTF?  What’s The Feeling being displayed through the behavior?  What emotion is your child acting out?  And then “name it to tame it” as child neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel says.

Help your child start to develop emotional literacy by guessing what he’s feeling and naming it:

“You sound very very frustrated.”
“You are so angry that you can’t have the cereal you want.”

Then validate the feeling by saying something like:

“It’s hard to really really want something and not be able to have it.”
“I know.  I hate it too when I can’t have what I want.”

WTN? Then guess What’s the Need underneath the feeling?  Often it’s a need for autonomy, for choice.  You can relate to that, right?  Don’t you also like having autonomy and choice in your life?  There’s nothing wrong with our children wanting that too.

It’s healthy to let them have as much choice as they can handle for their age.  And it’s also okay to set a loving limit when there are some choices that we decide are non-negotiable (like choices that have to do with safety, well-being, and health).

Then instead of trying to manage their behavior, spend that energy building your skill in being able to hold the limit and also hold your child’s intense feelings in response to the limit.  This can be hard to do, but it will help your child to develop insight into his own inner emotional life and, as he matures, to be able to problem-solve and find other ways to meet needs.

I invite you to develop the art of curiosityWhat’s the Feeling?  What’s the Need?   Developing honest curiosity about your child’s emotional life leads to greater understanding and a stronger connection.

Comments

  1. We posted reference to this article on our Facebook page yesterday, and put it in our Post Parenting Toolbox email newsletter last week. We put links in to your site and hope that many of our parents will visit you regularly. You have a wonderful way of presenting your information and I love your writing.

  2. Sherri Boles-Rogers says:

    Thanks David for posting my “WTF?” article on the Post Institute Facebook page and in the newsletter. I’ve gleaned so much from Bryan’s work and from the insightful articles that you write. Thank you for sharing your own personal parenting journey.

Speak Your Mind

*