Sometimes on a home visit or at one of the preschools where I consult I have an ah-ha moment--an insight that opens up new possibilities for ways to help children problem-solve and cope in challenging moments. I had one of these experiences recently that I share below. I hope to make this a regular feature of my newsletter--to intersperse some of my longer-form newsletters with stories like these from the child-rearing trenches. I hope you find them useful!
Scenario: Three-year-old Leo fell apart at preschool because it wasn't his turn to be the snack helper. I suggested other jobs he could do, but that only led to his getting more revved-up and shouting: "No, no, no--don't tell me that!" I paused and then pivoted, deciding to instead ask if he wanted help: "Leo-I have some ideas about how you might solve this problem. Do you want to hear them?" He quickly calmed, was all ears, and out of the choices I offered he happily accepted the task of announcing "All seated for snack-time!" to signal to the teachers that the kids were ready to eat.
Insight: When we launch into a range of unsolicited solutions to help a child solve a problem, it can feel intrusive and overwhelming, and amplify versus reduce the child's distress. (Especially when it comes to kids who, by nature, are big reactors.) Seeking their permission to provide input by asking if they want to hear your ideas shows respect for children's boundaries and need for control, and makes it much more likely they will absorb the ideas you are sharing.
Several parents and colleagues with whom I have shared this story have noted that it is a good strategy for children any age, and grown-ups for that matter. I started doing it with my adult children to great effect. It's never too late!
Claire Lerner, LCSW-C is a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist. She served as the Director of Parenting Resources at ZERO TO THREE for more than 18 years, where she oversaw the development of all parenting educational content.
Claire has been a practicing clinician for over 30 years, partnering with parents to understand the behavior and development of their young children. In addition, she provides consultation and training to local preschools and pediatric residents.