"Don’t touch that!" "Stop interrupting me!" "Take your feet off the couch!" "Be gentle with the cat!"
You know the feeling - the often palpable tension of the moment between your directive and your child’s compliance. The reaction to the direction can vary: perhaps your child pulls back and complies immediately, or they ignore you completely, or they sigh and roll their eyes, or they actively defy your command, or a host of other variations the provoke a variety of feelings in us. Our responses to their choices at that moment can also take on a multiple iterations: we repeat what we said, we expand on the reason why we told them to do what we did, we threaten some punishment/consequence if they don’t do what we said, perhaps we physically remove them from the situation, put them in “time out,” or we engage in a back and forth debate on the topic… Do you see anything here you recognize? It’s a common source of great frustration for both parents and children.
Is it possible to sidestep this power dance? Without claiming this tact is a magic wand, there is hope to be found in simply shifting from demand to description - from instruction to information. How could that change things?
They can’t find their favorite shirt. Someone wouldn’t share their ball today. The photo of them on Instagram was not very flattering. Their sibling joked that mom or dad was going to give away their iPad. BOOM. The world is over. Tears. Anger. The sky is falling.
Why are they making such a fuss over nothing? What’s the big deal? Get over it, right?
Let’s press pause. What makes something a “big deal” vs. a “little deal?” Importance is a pretty relative term. Food, shelter, and breathing aside, what constitutes important depends on who’s doing the constituting. And when something is relative, we would probably say it depends on your perspective. Good, perspective. Let’s get some perspective on this issue.
Have you ever heard about the importance of making your child “anti-fragile?” I’m guessing none of us would want our children described as “fragile,” but what in the world is “anti-fragile?” Nassim Taleb writes in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder about things that become stronger under pressure, not things like faberge eggs of course, but things like bones, immune systems… and, one could argue, children.
You and I both know that we live in an extrovert’s world, especially in terms of what our culture values. The gregarious personality is celebrated, and often more quickly trusted and embraced. The quieter personality, in contrast, is often misunderstood and frankly mistrusted. If you don’t believe it, you might be an extrovert and should probably go right now and ask an introvert.
What does this cultural bias mean for our more quiet or socially-avoidant children? As it 100% affects their lives, it’s something we parents just can’t avoid ourselves, or be quiet about.
In my early 20’s, I was sitting in the kitchen of my future in-laws (unbeknownst to me), sharing the dilemma of my uncertain life direction, when my future mother-in-law put her hands around her coffee cup and said, “Well, I know you’ll make the right decision.”
What? How in the world could she know that? Really, she just met me, and suddenly she has all this unfounded confidence in my decision-making skills!
I think about this moment very very often, this moment of gratuitous confidence in my executive functioning skills. It felt like an unexpected announcement: “Good morning, Christen, this is YOUR life and YOU are capable of running it!”
MAIN Author: CHRISTEN PARKER-YARNAL