Want some very straightforward and easy-to-apply methods for connecting with your children when your first inclination is to scream or lecture or punish? Sandy Blackard’s Say What You See approach offers a way of connecting and respecting your children while setting boundaries both parents and kids can live with. Her book SAY WHAT YOU SEE was recently named one of the gold winners by the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA). This post is the third in my interview series with Sandy. For the basics of her approach, see part 1. For further examples of how to apply her approach, see part 2. And for help using Say What You See during more trying times, read on.
As a single mom, I often feel like I can’t get a break and the energy required for parenting is sucked up by life challenges. This is what I call Tornado Parenting–when one is having more than just a bad day/week or going through a particularly challenging developmental phase. Maybe there has been a divorce, a death, a move or something else that has really shaken the foundation of the family. The parent is dealing with his/her own emotions, is exhausted, has a shorter fuse, and less patience when parenting. The child may be scared, or testing boundaries or attachment to reassure him or herself. How can one use Say What You See to help when tornado parenting?
Tornado parenting sounds like a dizzying whirlwind of overwhelming moments that has the potential to leave a path of destruction. Not a desirable place to be for the parent or child.
The situations you describe tend to leave a parent feeling powerless. When our needs are high, we need to meet them first before we can do much to help our children. Since we can’t stop and make the world go away, here are four things that come to mind:
- SAY WHAT YOU SEE to yourself.The same kind of compassionate understanding you bring to your children when you say what you see, you can bring to yourself. Imagine you have a short fuse one day (or lots of days) and yell at your child for forgetting to feed the dog. You even call him or her irresponsible (my own personal hot-button). Saying what you see to yourself afterwards in your head could sound like:
SWYS (complaints):“You are so angry that the dog didn’t get fed! You even reminded her, and she still didn’t do it. You’ve done all you can do! You are at the end of your rope, working, taking care of the kids, and now the dog, too. It’s too much responsibility. Life shouldn’t be this hard!”When you begin to nod and agree with yourself as in, “No, it shouldn’t,” you’ve established the dialogue needed to get you heard. After you have heard and agreed with all of your complaints, go into your wishes continuing to refer to yourself as “you.” This process makes you your own best friend and guides you toward your strengths:
SWYS (wishes):“You wish there were someone you could count on to help you get through all of this. You hate doing things alone!Just like that you find out you are someone who loves doing things with others, who loves companionship, loves supportive relationships. Wow! And you thought you wanted the world to go away — including your kids!
Seeing your strengths usually fills your need for power enough to go back and do a do-over with your kids. If you use these moments to help them understand human behavior and why, even as adults, we do things we don’t want to do when we feel powerless– like yell at our kids–it’s a win for everyone. Plus you might just get to hear what can do’s your child has already come up with to remedy the problem and point out the strength in your apology: “I am sorry I yelled at you and called you irresponsible for forgetting to feed the dog. Forgetting is a mistake, but figuring out a solution is responsible!”
Seeing the strengths behind your complaints also helps you figure out what can do’s will fill your needs. If you take yourself at your word in the above dialogue, you will see you are right. You have done all you can do and know what you need — help. Seeing the hidden strength in wanting help, as opposed to seeing it as proof you are irresponsible, may open the door for you to finally get the help you need in the way of friends or a support group. There’s always something you can do when you find your strengths.
- SAY WHAT YOU SEE to your children.As discussed above, this one step, because of its uncanny ability to get you out of your head into the present moment, can help you stay calm in challenging moments. Even if at first, it comes out through clenched teeth, say it again, objectively describing what you see, until you begin to calm down. Once calm, you will be able to offer can do’s and ultimately find strengths, either in this moment or later as a do-over.My Language of Listening partner Eva shared a moment like this when her son and a friend were digging in her yard:
SWYS: (fists tight and teeth clenched)”You’re digging in my grass!!!
SWYS: (calmer) You’re digging in my grass. You must want to dig.
CAN DO: “Must be someplace you can dig that’s not in my grass!”
STRENGTH: (after the kids found a patch of dirt) “You found another place to dig!”
- Own it and become Tornado Mom. This surprise reversal can instantly turn any challenging moment around but it requires you to take ownership of your mood without guilt or blame. Becoming Tornado Mom “on purpose” with the appropriate warning sirens (some weird noises made by you) can break the tension and create lots of giggles. My favorite parenting author Lawrence Cohen writes all about this in Playful Parenting.Here’s an example using the third situation you mentioned above — cooking. Imagine you are trying to make dinner. It’s already late, everybody is hungry, kids are chasing each other through the kitchen, table is not set, and what you really want is help.Start with the warning siren, “Bwoop, bwoop! This is a Tornado Mom warning! Clouds are swirling around the kitchen. Kids running makes the wind worse. Oh no! Here they come again! Quick, get the dishes on the table before Tornado Mom lets loose! This one looks like a real yeller! Grab the plates! Grab the silverware! Oh no, she’s about to go! Oh no! Aaaargh! (Make loud noises and stomp or sweep playfully around the children.) Dishes aren’t enough! I hear tummy thunder! Must be something else you can do…”In addition to looking hilarious, exaggerating how you feel instead of resisting it is a kind of validation for you and is far more authentic for the kids. They already know you are Tornado Mom, whether you admit it or not! Turning the game over to them with the all-purpose can do can stop the running and possibly create the sense of team.
If after the first giggle or two, one or both children decide it’s not funny, at least you will be calmer and ready to say what you see to hear their thoughts, feelings and upsets about their day. Either way, it gives you a short emotional break.
- Seek professional help. If none of the above work for you, depending on the severity of the problem, either talk to a therapist or find a life coach — barter if necessary. Eva is my personal coach. She and I both offer private coaching services, but she is the one who first applied Language of Listening to adult personal growth. She is lightning fast and fun to work with.
In the case of Tornado Parenting, the key to calming the storm and getting rainbows back in your life is being heard and validated — both for and your kids.
Photo Tornado in the Plains