You Are Being Watched

One of my most cherished memories of my second born is when the Teacher’s Assistant (TA) at nursery school told me about a conversation she had had with my son who was four years old at the time. The school was about to perform their holiday concert piece and as the kids were lining up to get ready to go on stage, my son was pulled out of line and placed between two boys who weren’t his friends.

My son was not happy. He told the T.A. that he wanted to be with his friends. The T.A. nodded and took him off to the side, out of earshot of the other children. She explained to him that the boys he was now stuck between needed his positive influence in order to keep their troublesome behaviours in check. My four year old son thought about this for a few seconds and then said, “I get that. Thank you for telling me why you did this.”

The Power of Listening

When the T.A. told me this, I just about cried tears of pride and love. Yes, that did sound like my son. I’ve always been able to reason with him from a very young age. But it also moved me that the T.A. recognized his disappointment in not being able to sit with his friends. She saw that he was not happy to be placed between the two trouble-makers. But she knew that she could appeal to his uncanny maturity by asking him to help out for this big performance.

She talked to him at his level and asked him to help out the whole class by demonstrating model behaviour for the trouble-makers to model during the concert. This T.A. could just as easily have brushed aside my son’s disappointment at his new place in line. She could have said, “This is where I put you, now stop complaining and get back in line!”

The Consequences of Not Listening

Imagine what could have happened if she had done that. My son could easily have gotten angry and things between him and the two trouble-makers could have escalated out of control. Their performance could have been jeopardized by someone’s unruly behaviour. Or my son might have ended up feeling bad about himself, that he had been placed with the “bad kids”, if he hadn’t received that explanation.

The T.A. chose to see things from a four year old’s perspective, albeit a slightly above-average four year old if I do say so myself. She took the time to address his feelings and explain why things worked out the way they did. She diffused a situation that could have potentially spiraled into a nursery-bloodshed on the stage had my son been left to agonize in his confusions and frustration.

Gain a Different Perspective

Tool number two is about perspective. To get outside of your laser-focussed parenting peephole and look at the big picture. Yes, look at it from your child’s perspective, but with one unique twist.

Imagine one interaction you had with your child that you weren’t please with. Pretend you’re an outsider looking at the particular situation you’re in. Can you see how you the parent are acting or perhaps, overreacting? In the grand scheme of life and your relationship with your child, is the issue you’re dealing with worth the energy you are reacting with? Is the fight worth engaging in?

Recipe for Tool #2:

The ingredients you need are one parent, at least one child, plus one situation that is threatening to end poorly (hint: if it ends poorly for one person, its ends poorly for everyone).

Step 1 – STOP

This is the matrix bullet time freeze frame where everything slows to a crawl. Take a mental time out. Think about what’s actually happening in the heat of the moment. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. What are they feeling? Is what they want or something they’ve done make any sense to you if you were their age?

Step 2 – Zoom out

Take a step farther back. Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall but with much more intelligence than an insect. Objectively examine the situation. Decide if what’s going on is worth the stress you and your child are both feeling.

When we’re too close to what’s going on, it’s so easy to get tunnel vision and focus on being right rather than doing the right thing.

Imagine what your current life would look like to an outsider. How would your family appear on a reality TV show? Is that a scary thought? What needs to change so you would be comfortable with your “performance” as a parent? And what would you say to another parent going through a similar issue you’re going through now?

Step 3 – Decide on an alternate course of action

If you act out in your mind what you would normally say and the expected response from your child you know the outcome. So its time to try a different scene in the same parental movie that you star in.

Pick a different role. Instead of hot headed daddy, be fun and playful. Instead of shouting yelling mummy, be calm and collected.

What character would serve this scene the best? Who would you need to be so that you can reach your child and communicate deeply with them?

Is it a cartoon character like spongebob? (I hate him)

Or perhaps someone like Bill Cosby?

Would a teacher or friend you have seen in action be the appropriate character to play?

Run through some options then pick one and see how the scene plays out.

Step 4 – Examine What Happened

Once the situation is over, ask yourself how did that go and what could be improved.

Rinse and repeat.

Bonus: Step 5 – Truman Show

If all else fails and you can’t get out of your narrow viewpoint, set up a camera to record your family interactions during the times the problem is most likely to occur. Then sit back and watch the recording. Examine your own behaviour. Are you acting like the adult or are you personalizing and internalizing your child’s behaviour? What would you be thinking and feeling if you were the child in this situation.

Kids know which of our buttons they can push. And when they’re younger, they will inevitably push all of our buttons at one time or another. Taking a step back from the situation and gaining an outside perspective will help you determine whether or not it’s worth the energy to keep your ground or if it’s best to let this one go.

Putting yourself in your child’s shoes can help you see their struggle and their desires. If need be, you can speak to their experience by validating their emotions and appealing to their sense of humanity.

Reality Check

What if you stepped back even further and imagined your family on display in front of the whole world. Would you be proud of your parenting decisions or are you neglecting to truly connect with your child and grasp the opportunity to teach the lesson they need to learn?

A new perspective in parenting is an extremely valuable tool to add to your toolbox. All parents would be wise to always keep this tool at the front and centre in their daily interactions with their children. Because even though the whole world may not be watching, your child is. Don’t let the times you spend fighting over relatively small issues be the first thing you and your child remember about their childhood.

http://imperfectfamilies.com/2012/08/09/change-your-perspective-change-your-parenting/

HB

HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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