On July 4th I found myself negotiating with Asher about going to a friends house. He said he didn’t want to leave home, and his friend also wanted to stay home. I was hoping he would play with his friend so I could work on my computer. After some negotiating we hit a stalemate. A few minutes later he walked up to me and said, “It’s really important to me that we stay home today.” That phrase is magic. A few minutes later we are in the car on our way to his friend’s house. How did this happen you ask?
It’s the magic phrase- “This is important to me.” I started asking children to use this phrase over 10 years ago as a way to communicate that they really valued something, and I use it in return. So if we are trying to figure out how to work through a conflict of interests, which as parents we often find our needs competing with our children’s, its helpful to know how much flex space there is on someone else’s end. But this fourth of July Asher taught me something new about this phrase. I could tell when he said it it was a silent request for empathy. He just wanted me to acknowledge that it was important to him and that I am holding his needs in consideration. After he said it I reflected back to him: “Yes, I hear that it’s important to you to stay home today. Tell me about that.” And he did. And then he was ready to hear me. I shared my idea of going to his friends house and simply connecting to find out what everyone wanted and needed. He gladly hopped in the car once he felt considered. Often we humans dog for our needs and get attached to a particular outcome, and as parents its incredibly helpful to hear the need beyond the strategy, knowing that what our children want most is to be heard and considered. We are often not all that attached to a particular strategy, even though we may think and say we are.
Now sprinkle a little Jedi Magic on this day and you have our first Independence Day. We got in the car and I continued to reflect to Asher how wonderful it was to hear him say what was important to him without me prompting him. If he whines or complains about something I will often prompt him and coach him on how to say what he wants/needs with power. I’m telling him he is powerful and that he knows how to ask for what he wants, and clearly does it easily. I am telling this child who he is, and what we focus on we get more of, so there you have it. Jedi Magic. The day goes on and Asher continues to act in ways that are pleasantly surprising for him and myself. He insists on carrying the heavy cart in the grocery store, carrying out the heavy bags to the car, and even shutting my door like a gentlemen, not because I asked him to, but because I told him he was powerful, and he likes that story of himself. I told him that this was surely Asher’s Independence Day. He’s 7 years old and it really shows. (You can do this at any age.) He was excited by the idea and again I was reinforcing this behavior of consideration that I enjoy in my family!
When we got home I shared this news with the family and we had a celebration and I retold the events of the day, continuing to reinforce how helpful, cooperative, and independent Asher is. Children want attention and connection in whatever form you dish it out. If you pick them apart and focus on their flaws, you get more of it. If you pivot and notice what skills you want them to develop, and give them opportunities to develop those skills with patience and compassion, you will be pleasantly surprised. This all doesn’t mean that I won’t ever remind Asher again that he’s powerful. But I can see the impact of my responses and it helps affirm that how I’m relating to him is supportive.