I had an awesome session today and I wanted to share a little bit about what we talked about. I think it’s something that can apply to a lot of families.
My clients have been struggling with their child not wanting to go to school—saying, “I don’t want to go to school, I’m not going to school,” and really fighting to get out the door. Then once they get out the door, they get in the car and then it’s a fight to get out of the car. Then when they get out of the car, it’s a fight to get to the door of the school, and it continues. So we’ve been talking about how to use some communication practices that may be helpful in toning down some of the escalation that’s been happening when their child is fighting about going to school.
One of the things I suggested is that next time their child does have this temper tantrum or is acting out, to just say, “Tell me more.” But before the parent even says that, the first thing that has to happen, is that we need to check in with ourselves. We need to calm ourselves, we need to remind ourselves that our child is trying to tell us something and that our we can handle this. And so, we say, “tell me more” from a place of calm and a place of wanting to connect.
If we’re frustrated and angry about the situation and maybe about other things in our lives, and we say, “Yeah, tell me more,” with the tone of frustration, it’s not going to work well. So we first need to calm ourselves—maybe that’s through a deep breath. Or maybe it’s through some other way.
When we say the words “Tell me more,” what we’re doing is opening up dialog. What we’re doing is letting our child know that they are seen and that they are heard. That they are valued and that their words, their thoughts and their feelings are important.
What We’re Not Doing
What we’re not doing when we say, “Tell me more,” is we’re not judging. We’re not saying, “It’s January, you should be excited about school. You’re always so negative about everything.” We’re not fixing the problem. We’re not saying “OK, what if we go out for ice cream after school?” We’re not coming up with a solution. We’re not shaming them by saying, “You’re such a baby, grow up. You should be able to do this by now.” We’re not doing any of those things.
An Important Voice
Again, what we’re saying is “Your voice matters. You are seen and you are heard.” And in today’s session, my clients said they had tried this. and when one of the parents said, “Tell me more,” this is what their four-year-old child said: “So I’m worried about my brother taking all my toys, and I’m wondering if there’s a place for me in this family, and do you think there’s going to be enough toys if he plays with it, but he really doesn’t like my toys.” The child just went on and on, talking about what she felt was bothering her.
Getting the Story
The back story is that there a new sibling in the family. All the parents said during the car ride to school was, “Tell me more” that’s all they said, without saying anything else. And at the end of the conversation, as they arrived at school, the child put their head in their hand, and let out a deep sigh, and said, “My brain is feeling better. My little brother can stay now.”
Seen and Heard
What that tells me is maybe, just maybe, that child just needed to let that all out—just needed to be seen and heard. And for someone to understand why it’s so difficult to go to school. It’s as if the child said, “It’s so difficult to go to school because I don’t get the time to spend with my parents and my little brother does.”
Maybe that’s the answer. We don’t really know. What we do know, is that sometimes we can look at behavior like it’s an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is what we see—that’s their behavior. That’s the temper tantrum, the slamming of doors, the eye rolling, the huffing and puffing. And in this case, the child not wanting to go to school. Underneath that, is the need. So the need for this child right now, based on the conversations I’m having with the parents, is to understand: “Am I loved?”
The child is essentially asking: “Am I loved? Do all these things that are changing and happening with my new brother still mean there’s enough love for me? When I go to school, I don’t feel like I’m loved. Because I miss my parents, I don’t get to see them, but I know my little brother gets to stay home and play with my parents”
I think this is a really great snapshot of how communication can be such a great tool. And this is great for kids—this child happens to be around 4 years old. This is a great tool even for children who are teens and tweens.
Opening up the Conversation
We want our kids to come talk to us, right? We want our teenager, when they’re considering doing drugs, staying out late, making friends, whatever it is, we want them to talk to us. And we know we’re going to be shut out of a lot of conversations. But if we start now at an earlier age, to start just saying, “Tell me more,” then maybe later we can have more of a discussion.
But right now, “Tell me more.”
“You want a tattoo? Tell me more about that! Tell me why you want a tattoo. Where are you thinking of getting the money for that? What do you think having a tattoo will do for you? How do you think that will change who you are?”
It’s coming from a place of curiosity. It’s questioning, and it allows the child to feel seen and heard. And for a lot of children, that really matters.
Try it out and let me know how it works for you. But remember, first you have to come from a place of calm and true curiosity.
So I hope this little snapshot of an inside peek at one of my coaching sessions helps, and can guide you. And if you would like to talk more about this or any other parenting challenge, feel free to reach out to me.