Helping kids deal with their tragedies, no matter how trivial they may seem
“Keener, would you like me to cut your half of the English muffin?”
“Such nice manners this morning bud!”
“Actually, no thank you!”
“OK, I already cut it in half but I will stop now. I really appreciate you using such kind manners.”
I brought the half of English muffin perfectly toasted (meaning NO crunchy parts) with both butter and jelly to the table. “I said I didn’t want it cut!” The tragedy was starting. It wasn’t even 8:00 AM.
“Keener, I asked you and at first you said ‘yes, please’ and then you said, ‘no thank you’ so I stopped. I had already cut it in half.”
“But I don’t want it cut!”
Has anyone else been here? Sometimes, I actually feel like I’m going crazy. It’s so hard to have empathy and compassion when the issues seems SO trivial and insignificant. However, I’ve tried many different approaches. Minimizing his sadness does not help. Today, I tried validating and then putting the issue on him all while offering support and comfort for his ‘loss.’
“Keener, I can see how upset you are that it is cut. What is your plan in getting through this?”
“I’m going to squish it back together!… It’s not staying!!!”
“Hmm…What else could you try?”
“Nothing is working!”
“One option would be to be glad you have two pieces! You also could decide not to eat it but that is your choice.”
“I want to eat it!”
“Then you have a decision to make. I am here and happy to help you if you need help.”
Through tears and frustration, he continued trying to squish it back together. I gave him what felt like an eternity to work through his problem, biting my tongue to not interject. I did this for a few reasons. When I am upset, the last thing that is helpful is someone chirping in my ear lots of ideas to help me. If anything, it makes things far worse. This is true for our children as well. Despite our best intentions, our constant “trying to fix it” babble often makes our kids more upset.
Second, although difficult to see him struggle, that is exactly the skill I want him to develop. And what better place than when I am sitting an arm’s length away at the kitchen table? We can’t expect our children to develop resilience, perseverance, and problems solving skills if they never have an opportunity to practice them.
“I’m trying to make a circle!”
“Oh, great! Why don’t you pretend that half is a circle!”
“I’m not going to pretend, it IS a circle.”
While I don’t want to promote/allow lying, I decided that I would correct him one time and then let it be. In this moment, we were working on struggling through a challenging moment. We didn’t also need to tackle the issue of honesty.
“Keener, it is not a circle but if you want to tell yourself it is, I think that is a great idea. Looks like you solved the problem of wanting your English muffin back in a circle! Way to go Bud.”
And with that, he ate his two ‘circles’ and finished breakfast. Onward and upward we went throughout our day.
Takeaways for similar situations?
- Validate their feelings, no matter how trivial they seem to you
- Make yourself available as an option they can turn to for help
- Empower your child to solve the situation for themselves
- Stop yourself from talking… bite your tongue if you have to
- Avoid the urge to step in and rescue
- Stay calm
- Be an observer
- File this away as a great future teaching opportunity: “Remember when you were really upset about your English muffin and then solved the problem?”