Tonight we had a mini-meltdown in the kitchen. It was one of those oh-so-common situations that parents face all the time. It wasn’t a tantrum. It was something “bad” happening to my youngest daughter which upset her.
What was the disaster? She was playing with her toy car and it rolled under the oven. Yes, I’m serious. This was the source of the near-meltdown for little Elizabeth, who’s almost 4 as of this posting.
As the toy car rolled under the oven she instantly started to cry. She probably thought it was lost forever. You and I are adults. We know better. But how do we get this through to a small child BEFORE the meltdown?
I started with a pattern interrupt. This is a technique to stop her mini-meltdown in its tracks by saying something not expected. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her in that moment but I think it was something along the lines of, “Liz – don’t start crying YET because the car is about to turn around and roll back out from under the oven!”.
White lie, I know. But effective too.
I got down on my chest and peered under the oven. There was the toy car in the deepest, darkest crevice under the oven. She almost started to cry again. Almost. I didn’t let it get too far. I moved onto step 2 – asking good questions.
One strategy is to ask questions that force the unconscious mind to assume something will be true. I said to her, “Elizabeth – how happy will you be when we get that car out from under the oven?”
When you ask a question like this the child can’t help but to imagine themselves reunited with the lost toy, and obviously it’s a happy feeling. Liz told me she would be “really happy”.
Then I moved onto step 3 – teaching her how to solve her own problem. I said to her, “Sweetie – it’s really far under there so I think we’re going to need something long to help us reach it. What could we use that’s really long and will fit under the oven?”
She instantly lit up like a Christmas tree and said, “I know Daddy! We can use the sweeper in the closet!” She meant the broom. But this isn’t a vocabulary lesson
She ran and grabbed the broom. We reached under the oven to retrieve the car. Smiles all around. Problem solved.
I know this wasn’t some major crisis, but I really want to encourage parents to think about how children react on auto-pilot. They don’t stop and think consciously about this stuff. Liz didn’t say to herself, “Oh, the car rolled under the oven. It’s probably gone forever. How sad.” No – she didn’t have time to think! She just reacted with pure emotion.
It’s called an unconcsious response.
Whenever you are dealing with an unconscious response your task should be centered around causing a more resourceful unconscious response to replace it. In my case I had to get Liz to move from being really upset to thinking about how happy she’d be when she had her toy back. That opened the door to getting her to figure out the solution to the problem with a bit of help from Dad.
“Talking to Toddlers”, is all about how to artfully change the unconscious response in children. So whether it’s a mini-meltdown over something small or a more serious behavior issue, these tools really do work, and they really are simple. It just takes some patience, awareness and practice.
Enjoy your children,