Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bridging the Troubled Waters

I was recently on a jet boat ride with Billy, a very bright 5 year old boy who also has an intense, sensitive and impulsive temperament. This boat ride required all passengers to remain seated with snug fitting life jackets for the entire two hour trip, as the boat did spins and twists, splashing the tourists on a hot summer day.

For good reason, Billy's mom was anxious about how he would behave on the trip and did a lot of Preparing for Success, talking through the rules of the boat and asking him lots of questions about the plan for the day, how long they would have to stand in line, where they might sit, whether the life jackets would be loose or tight. These kinds of "think-through" questions helped Billy prepare for the outing--he knew what to expect and how the trip would go. To her relief, the trip started out very smoothly.

After an hour or so of being on the boat, Billy got pretty tired of his tight life jacket and began whining and complaining about it and asking to take it off. His mom listened and nodded and then tried a technique from the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (CEHP) skill called "Reflective Listening". Instead of reasoning about why he had to keep it on or pleading and reminding about how he only had to wear it for 20 more minutes, she stayed calm, acknowledged his feelings and gave him his wishes in fantasy.

Billy:    "Mom - take off my life jacket! When can I take it off? I don't like it!"

Mom:   Shaking her head empathetically - "You don't like wearing it. It probably feels too tight and uncomfortable. Smiling - Wouldn't it be great if there weren't any boat rules and you could take it off right now?!"

Billy:     Nods with a sad look but stops whining and complaining

Reflective Listening is far more effective than arguing and negotiating. It not only reassures our children that their feelings are understood, it enables us to grant their wishes in fantasy ("Wouldn't it be great if...") and defuse intense emotional moments.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA

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