(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 BeanBagBoss.com (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,