Autumn Leaves to Fluffy Pillows

Fall 2006 Cottage022

(Picture of my daughter and I from a few years ago …)

This is a story about fixing tears by asking good questions and being a bit creative.

As I write this, it’s the middle of winter here in Toronto. We’re having a warm spell, and it’s hovering a few degrees above freezing. But it’s raining, which just makes being outside miserable. Looking outside just now, it reminded me of something that happened a few months ago, in the fall. I think it’s a nice story to share, and I hope it give all you parents some new ideas and insights.

This past fall, as the leaves started falling from the trees, our green grass was being hidden by a thick blanket of beautiful colours. When I was a kid I used to go outside with my friends, rake up a huge pile of leaves and then we’d take turns having running jumps into the pile.

Naturally, I shared this same experience with my kids. The first time we raked up a pile of leaves for the big jump-a-thon was a few years back. Clearly my youngest daughter remembered how much fun it was. I say this because, this fall, she asked me if we could do it again. I promised her we could.

Lesson 1: Don’t make promises when outside factors could screw you up and make you look like a liar. We had a lot of rain over the next few weeks and the leaves were never dry. So raking them up wouldn’t give us a nice fluffy and safe pile to jump in. It would be compact, wet, and cold. No fun.

So one day, on a Saturday morning, my daughter Liz says to me, “Daddy when are we going to be able to jump in the leaves”. She sounds sort of sad, because I (meaning the weather), have kept her waiting.

When I told her they were still too wet to jump in, she started to cry a bit. She was just upset by what she’d been told. Of course no parent wants to see their kid cry. It sucks. And as a result, I asked myself an important question. That question was, “How can I creatively solve this problem and have fun doing it?”

The first step was to elicit information from my daughter, but in a way that would change her emotional state. I got down to her level and spoke to her in a curious tone. I asked her, “Sweetie – what do you like best about jumping in the leaves? What part of it is your favourite?”

I figured the answer would be self explanatory, and it was. But it forced her to go inside her mind’s eye and make a mental movie, and feel the feelings that she’d be feeling if we were outside playing in the leaves. The fancier way to say this is that I was helping her to revivify a past experience.

Liz gave me a simple answer. “I like the ranking and the jumping”.

I cornered in on the idea of jumping. I started to pace her experience by saying things like, “The leaves are pretty soft, aren’t they?” Then I started to lead more instead of pace. I said, “What else is really soft that we could jump in?” She started naming things like blankets, pillows and stuffed animals (or “stuffies” as they are called in my house).

So I proposed something new. “If we can’t jump in the leaves, how about we make a huge pile of blankets, pillows and stuffies in the basement? We can jump in that!”

She totally went for it. Loved the idea.

My wife? Maybe she didn’t appreciate me grabbing every pillow in the house and carrying them all to the basement, but I put them all back. I swear. She has me well trained to clean up after myself.

So for about 15 or 20 minutes (until we were all pooped from the exercise), my two girls and I jumped in this massive pile of everything soft we could find in the house. The foundation of the pile ended up being a huge bean bag chair that I bought online at (absolutely LOVE these bean bag chairs). Between that, a dozen pillows, every extra blanket I had in the house, and a pile of stuffed animals, we had one gigantic (and soft) pile.

My wife even came downstairs for a few jumps while we cheered her on. And she admitted it was fun!

What does this all mean?

To me, as a guy who teaches parents how to communicate with kids, I think it’s really important to remind you all that getting into your child’s state of mind is important. If you don’t really understand how they feel, you won’t be able to relate, or to help. You can “get there” by asking good questions.

Then, think outside the box. My daughter thought she wanted to jump in leaves. But she really just wanted to do something that resembled it, while hanging out with her Dad. Making a big pile of soft stuff was a perfect solution, and all it requires was a bit of creativity.

I’m not the most creative guy on the planet. I’m a math and science geek. If I can solve these sorts of problems by asking myself empowering questions, you can too. I know you can.

Enjoy your children,
Chris Thompson

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids


14 Responses to Autumn Leaves to Fluffy Pillows

  1. Linda Blunt February 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I so enjoy your comments. It has helped me greatly with my granddaughter who is smart and 4, so emotional. I have been able to circumvent emotional problems by using “getting into her head” and having all is well endings. Once she said, “well, I want to do this, but maybe on not such an angry day”. I loved it; it wasn’t long before she forgot it was an angry day and we had a great time with the play. She so enjoys having her feelings acknowledged. I love working through our problems and not ending up with angry feelings. I want free and clear love between us. It is wonderful.

  2. Michelle February 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    I love this idea! You don’t give yourself enough credit, I think you are very creative and I have learned and applied so many lessons that you have taught me. Like you say on your cd’s, once you hear the steps and do the homework, it all seems so obvious! :) I often wonder why I hadn’t thought of some of these tools. I thank you so very much for sharing all of your tips and training with my family!

  3. khalil February 2, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    very very nice idea

  4. Namrita Naran February 2, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    Love this blog! I need help getting my 3 year old to go to school happily every morning.I have to hand him over to his teacher while he is in tears and I have to walk away.I hate it.Please advise!

    • Lizzie February 5, 2013 at 12:31 am #

      Hi- I had same problem for a whole year with my daughter, although rather than crying she’d have these awful, screaming and raging tantrums went I went to go. Like you I’d give her a hug and then go, but the misery of parting like this stayed with me for hours sometimes. One day, on the way to kindy I saw a circus in town. I said, “Hey Zella- If you don’t shout at me when I drop you off at kindy, for every morning this week, then I’ll take you to the circus on Saturday. Sure enough, she just decided not to, and we had a really magic night trip to the circus, and this kid of broke the cycle and apart from the odd day, she stopped doing the huge tantrum thing every single day.

  5. raye February 2, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    Love your stories, always, appreciated of your sharing….

  6. Ai Nee February 2, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    Try giving the kid reminders before the school. How fun is it and other extra thing he can do in school.

  7. Satvinder Dhot February 2, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    Thank you for your blogs. They are indeed very helpful to me looking after two toddler Grandsons.

  8. Jahanara February 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    Thanks, it’s great
    I need my 2year to stop crying for everything. I’ve explained her nicely that mummy can’t hear u when you cry. This doesn’t always work. She is also at times very clingy. Almost like her mummy will be taken away from her. Even thou I communicate with her at all times and try and figure out what she’s thinking.

    Any advise?

    • Lizzie February 5, 2013 at 12:35 am #

      There’s a book 123 Magic that totally saved my family’s sanity. It can work for kids aged 2-12, although I think that would depend on their ability to understand and talk. It’s very simple and helps to set limits. Whining was the main behaviour that was awful for our family- incessant, loud and her default tone- I think my child had honestly forgotten how to use her “normal voice!” .

      • Chris Thompson September 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

        Great book. I wrote a review of 123 Magic on my site. As with anything, it’s not a complete solution. But it’s highly effective for so many problems. I still use the technique today, several years later. The magic is in being consistent, unemotional, and setting the ground rules ahead of time.

  9. hayley February 3, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    My 3 yr old has to be handed over each morning screaming, I kiss him say I love you and hurry away its heart breaking how do we get our children to school with out tears because im a registered childcare provider and im really struggleing with my own son my first son was amazing please help

  10. Leanne Xerri February 8, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    Loved the story. I have learned (from Talking to Toddlers book!) that “no”, “can’t” and “don’t” used to often really get ignored. You really need to get creative and think of other ways around it. when you get the ahng if it it is not really that hard – I am not a creative person, like Chris I am a math and science geek!

  11. Thalia February 25, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Hi Chris, now I really appreciate this article. I do explain things to her which is the reason why she doesn’t really cry out as she gets it by me taking her outside and enjoy the rain or the weather and she gets it. But never thought making so much crazy fun of ASKING HER QUESTIONS and on top of that, BRINGING SO MUCH FUN covering her NEEDS from the questions I TOOK TIME TO ASK :) Thank you Chris!

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