In the years I have been working with kids and parents, and being a parent myself, I find that often times the things we argue about in reality are, No Big Deal. In the moment of asking your child to brush their teeth for the 137th time that morning, or the friend who doesn’t want to play with your child right now, it feels like a big deal. It feels like it is worth the fight or breakdown of the century. But in the aftermath of toothpaste covered bathrooms, it wasn’t really a big deal.
I am not saying that some fights aren’t worth having and maybe the teeth are just the last drops in the bucket before we explode. What I am saying is take a minute and figure out why we are reacting the way we are to things that in grand scheme of things, are pretty minimal. When we look at the big picture for us as parents and help our children look at what things mean for them, we find some pretty broad themes, that show up in pretty small places.
First, all of us parents are guilty of this; wake up late, have to get kids ready for school, yourself ready for work, pack lunch, get gas, the list goes on and on. And we need to get all of this done in less than 30 minutes. I am often a visitor of this reality. I am guilty of pushing my little one into my schedule, knowing in my adult brain that over sleeping is not their fault (we haven’t hit the teenage years yet, I am sure there will be a blog about that later on). But, they don’t move fast enough and in the whirlwind of non-peanut peanut butter and lost socks, all the No Big Deals become one major deal, it ends in tears, missed breakfast, and basically no one is having a good day. In the times when I have been aware enough of my responsibility in creating mountains where there aren’t any, not even a mole hill, I stop, breathe, and say to myself, ‘oh well lady, we will just be late, and we will have a good day’. So parents, next time you’re yelling, throwing up your hands, and creating Mt. Everest in the kitchen over three cheerios on the floor, remember it’s No Big Deal…well at least maybe try.
Now, back to the teeth, is there constant frustration because your kid just doesn’t listen? I tell them do things and they don’t, it’s like talking to a brick wall. Yup, basically you are. Kids are amazing at tuning you out, especially if there is something more exciting happening, or they know how to get you to lose it. I often think of them as little dementors, sucking the power and control right out of us. It is an art that they perfect, and they perfect it early. So here’s the thing, we can make behavior charts, chore charts and a million other charts found on Pintrest, or in my office, but we have to get the root of their inaction.
#1. Give them a few chances to hear you and literally be with them, eyes on, not yelling from the laundry room. I always say let’s make a goal of listening and acting on the 2nd time a request is made. It gives them a little time to get out of their world and back into yours.
#2. Give them one direction at a time. Especially for kids who struggle with attention, or other behavioral health concerns. Telling a child to get up, get dressed, brush their hair and their teeth and eat breakfast and walk the dog and feed the fish…and….and…and. Isn’t going to work. By the time we are finished telling all the things that they have to do, they are just thinking, hey did mom say something? So one at a time. For little ones and kiddos with attention difficulties, it’s generally one task, ensure it is complete, then on the next, and repeat. It’s a lot of time, I get it, but it really is better than fight. Timers work well too for the ones who like to really take their time.
#3. Is it a Big Deal if it doesn’t get done? Example: kids can go to school in PJs, teeth can be brushed at night, socks don’t have to match (nor do clothes, this is a hard one for me), a couple of missed breakfasts and their hungry bellies will remind them to get it together in the morning. Most things and tasks we complete aren’t a big deal, and often times our timelines are arbitrary. So look at the big picture of the day, if it doesn’t get done right then so be it. Dish out a consequence if increasing your child’s compliance to following instructions and meeting their responsibility as a member in your house is a goal. Remember though, consequences are at their very best, when everyone is calm. The silence and lack of immediate reaction is a powerful tool, use it wisely.
Ok, so we are all awesome, in control of ourselves parents now right….right? Well, at least we have a tool in the toolbox, we can use it when we remember.
The next step is a little harder, and often times more difficult for parents than kids.
Is your child a drama queen, overly sensitive, or goes off at the slightest thing?
Mine too. So what do we do, when we have validated their feelings to the point where they are over it and we just keep on talking? We help them figure out what is a No Big Deal. We often see these behaviors and reactions when I child feels that the world is unfair. Hello my little angel, welcome to the world, it is unfair. As adults we know it, but we have somehow figured out what to do when a No Big Deal rocks our ideal perfect world. For me, I call my mom, thanks mom for all the perspective and listening ears. But whatever you do to keep it together, teach that to your kids, as long as it’s healthy.
So let’s break it down into steps.
#1. Listen, really listen, try to get an understanding of the events and help them figure out what it means for them and how it is making them feel and why. And of course validate. Their feelings are real, they are right, and they are justified in that moment.
#2. Help them determine if it was a Big Deal. Here are some big deals in my house: hurting others, others hurting yourself on purpose, stealing, lying, and being unkind (often referred to as respect, that’s a pretty big concept for the littles so I go with kind). That’s it, everything else is just a part of life, as are those mentioned, but they deserve a more serious response, than say not getting to stay up late.
#3. Remind them, that what is a Big Deal for them may not be a Big Deal for someone else and vice versa. Note: somethings may be a Big Deal for you and not them, too bad for them, they live rent free, so your Big Deal is automatically their Big Deal (if everything is a big deal, please refer above).
#4. Make it visual. For kids especially little ones, I find that giving them some visual cues are super helpful, especially if they can manipulate it. It helps to solidify the ideas in their brains by using both sides, shout out to neuroscience. It can be a super simple “T” chart, with Big Deal and No Big Deal at the top, some post it notes and a pen. Bam, you’re doing therapy!
#5. Repeat, Revisit, Re-evaluate. We have to repeat this a lot, we are humans not everything sticks, when you get frustrated, think about the parent steps above, it takes practice, given them and yourself a break. Revisit the No Big Deals, when nothing has happened, a calm mind absorbs way more than a freaking out brain. Re-evaluate: as kids grow and we grow as parents the Big Deals may change. Sometimes we are trying to increase or decrease certain behaviors, during those times, those behaviors are a Big Deal.
So there you have it, navigating the No Big Deals. May the force be with you on this one, it’s hard, really hard, but we can do it. Of course we can, we turned out okay, there are not millions of foot stomping, laying on the floor screaming, mascara running down their face adults walking around the local super markets. I mean that’s what we are doing on the inside, but hey we are keeping it together, for now.