Another Calming Example

June 2nd, 2022
In reading about parenting I often feel like there's a bit too much theory vs examples, so here's walking through a recent interaction that others later commented went surprisingly well.

At a recent Tuesday Family Dinner, one of the kids (~6y) served themself an absurd amount of pasta. They were told to put some of it back, refused, and someone else put it back. They burst into tears and completely fell apart. They were told they either needed to calm down or leave the room, and they left. Lots of angry crying and shouting from the other side of the house.

After waiting a bit to give them a chance to calm down some, I went to see if they wanted to talk. I asked, and they said they did (if they hadn't I would have turned around and gone back to the table). I sat with them on the couch with a mindset of providing calm and patient attention, and asked what had happened. They started to explain through their sobs, but I told them that I couldn't understand and asked if they could speak normally.

This isn't actually true: I'm generally pretty good at understanding kids, even when they are crying pretty hard. I'm strongly opposed to lying (to kids or anyone) in most circumstances, but this is one place where I do make an exception. I pretend that I can't understand, ask if they can speak normally, present myself as an eager listener, and in response kids reliably pull themselves together. This has a strong calming effect: something about no longer crying seems to filter back into feelings not seeming so overwhelming.

In this case, they calmed down some, and explained that they were upset because they had the amount of pasta they wanted and then people took it away. We talked about what they didn't like about that and they told me they were worried the pasta was going to run out and they would still be hungry after dinner.

Personally, I think this is very unlikely to be why they fell apart while at the table, but that doesn't actually matter! What's important is that they've calmed down and put something into words: once it's in words, we can work on it. I used a whispery voice to tell them that I knew about some secret extra pasta, and that there was no way we were going to run out. I asked if they wanted to sneak back into the kitchen and see, which they were excited about. Together we crept into the kitchen, as quietly as possible, to peek at the serving bowl. There was, as we observed together, much extra pasta.

By that point they were in a good place emotionally and we had solved what they had described as their problem. They cheerfully sat back down at the table, and the rest of dinner went well. When they finished what was on their plate and wanted more, I gave them some.

Earlier: A Calming Strategy.

Comment via: facebook, lesswrong

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