Thursday, August 26, 2010

We have moved!

This blog, archives, and the associated videos have moved to my website.  Please come visit me there! - Sandy

Monday, May 3, 2010

Saying the Unsaid

I volunteer as a "floater" at a local Sunday School. When kids are having a hard time joining in or for some reason are not getting what they need from the class, I get to pop in and support them. Last Sunday I was called into the 4-5 yr old's room, and as always, SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS) changed a difficult moment into a rewarding one.

One little boy was sitting in circle time listening to the teacher with tears in his eyes.  Nothing seemed to go his way. Other kids got to hand out the hearts and be the teacher's helper, but today it wasn't his turn. The teacher looked up when I entered the room and mouthed the words, “He’s having a rough day.”

Two boys playing at the side of the room were called to join in the circle. Our little guy was up in a flash tugging at their shirts to get them to move. I stepped in and said to him:
SWYS:       You want them to come to the circle where they are supposed to be.
CAN DO:    You can join the circle yourself to show them, or you can come sit at the table with me.
One of the two playing boys rejoined the circle, but the other remained. I asked him to find a stopping place. He showed me what he needed to do, finished, and joined the circle. Our little guy came back to the table with me.

Minutes later it was time to turn down the lights for a quick, guided meditation. A child turned off the lights and the teacher lit the candle. Our little guy decided he wanted to blow out the candle at the end, so he rejoined the circle. After the meditation, he blew it out, but several other kids blew with him. He broke into tears and came back to the table with me whining that he wanted to blow out the candle by himself.

Here’s where saying the unsaid makes a big difference.  All I said was:
SWYS:    “You wanted to blow out the candle, but other kids blew it out, too.”
Child:    “And I didn’t get to hand out the hearts or turn off the lights.  I don’t want any body else to do anything!”
SWYS:    “Just you!  You want to do everything yourself!”
Child:    “Yea!”
Feeling completely heard, he dried his eyes, grabbed a marker, and and happily did a maze. The teacher looked over at us, astonished at the difference. By the time he finished, circle time was over. He hopped up and wanted me to replace one of the framed pictures in the room with his maze. We stuck it on the wall beside the framed picture, and even though it wasn’t exactly how he wanted it, he shed no tears. He gave me a happy nod and ran off to play, first by himself then with the other kids.

How often do kids get to hear their wants validated, especially when they want something they can’t have? But when you SAY WHAT YOU SEE, especially in the hard moments, saying the unsaid provides the validation kids need to move on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Q&A: Incessant Crying

I just responded to a dad on who asked:
My 18 month old cries constantly....about EVERYTHING. If she's hungry and we aren't getting the food to her fast enough, she cries. If I am getting her dressed, she cries. I try to do arts and crafts, playing outside, puzzles, reading books....she cries. I have ruled out any physical and/or health issues so that's not it. It's really wearing on me and I don't know what to do. She doesn't understand time outs and she is barely talking. She only says dada, mama, ball, uh-oh and that's pretty much it. I try to encourage her to use her words to tell me what's wrong and she just cries harder.
My answer:

Children that age have lots of things they want to tell us but can't. Imagine yourself in her shoes and say what you would need to hear to feel understood if you were her. An emphatic, "You want that, and you don't want to wait!" with a matching pouty face will go much further than pleading with her to use words she doesn't have when you are getting her food or other things ready. Then add what's so like, "It takes a minute, and you want it to be ready now. It seems like you will never get it. Wow! No wonder it's hard to wait!"

Adding, "There must be something you can do to make waiting more fun. Hmmm..." and making silly suggestions like "You could try a sommersault," or "Here, tear up this napkin. See if that helps," puts you on her side. Suggesting things that are OK with you and return a bit of power to the child can turn the whole thing around and give the child more tools for waiting. When a tiny bit of patience shows up, make a mental note and point it out later when the child is seated with the food and completely calm as in, "You found a way to wait! That shows you have patience!" When kids know they have a strength, they can use it.

Other times when she cries, she probably doesn't know what's wrong, just that something is, so say that, too as in, "Something is wrong!" or "You didn't like that!" or "That's not what you wanted!" adding a stomp of the foot for emphasis or whatever she does when she is frustrated, like follow-the-leader for a minute. Kids respond to simply being heard in amazing ways.

Just remember that if something were wrong that was out of your control and nobody around you understood, crying would be exactly the right coping response. When she is done crying, point out how well it worked as in, "You got all that crying out and now you feel better." It might even help you see crying as a healthy outlet for frustration, not a problem you have to solve.

A free full preview of my little book that tells you how to get more from parenting than just well-behaved kids, SAY WHAT YOU SEE, is posted at

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

Child:     "You always buy her whatever she wants! You never do that for me! You love her more!"
When your child challenges your fairness, remember to to say what the child is feeling without defending your actions. This is harder than it sounds, since we are programmed to defend. But, if a child fusses about unfair treatment and we jump in with all kinds of defenses like, "I bought her those shoes because she needed them," or "The ones you wanted cost too much for our budget," we are in effect validating the problem.

Instead of searching for proof, jump directly to the heart of the issue. SAY WHAT YOU SEE:
SWYS:     "Sounds like you are sure that because I bought her the shoes she wanted I love her more."
The core of sibling rivalry is favoritism. Kid's are sure this is real. And here's a funny thing--when we are afraid to voice our children's fears, we validate those same fears. However, when you can address children's fears head on, they feel reassured. It might sound backwards, but it's true; if it's safe to talk about, it must not be that bad. Kids get very nervous when we can't talk about something. A child's unconscious answer to his  own question, "Why can't Mom or Dad say that?" or "Why do they need reasons or proof?" is "It must be true."

If the child's response to your SWYS statement is, "Yes, you do love her more! You even tuck her in first (or other kinds of proof)..." respond by saying what you see the child feeling until the child feels understood:
SWYS:     "And you noticed I do that, too. I'll bet you notice a lot of things. Sounds like to you it seems I'm always doing more for her than you, and you feel really sad about that. Sometimes I've even heard you say that you wish she had never been born. Wow, it's got to be really hard for you to feel like your Mom [or Dad] loves your sister more!"
Understand that this is a deep sadness that you can't fix by changing your actions, because the problem isn't real in the first place. Since the problem only exists in the child's mind, only the child can fix it. But what you can do is begin building up the child's sense of self by pointing out strength's like:

STRENGTH:     "You've been so brave, feeling all alone and trying to find ways to feel special.  And even though you feel jealous, you still find ways to be nice to your little sister sometimes. Just yesterday, I saw you..."
And then you carry this out into daily life, and watch for other strengths the child shows as he interacts with little sister while overcoming his fear, remembering that the favoritism issue is real for him.

Also, know that a child who compares what you buy, or the minutes you spend, or the size of the slice of pizza to prove you love a sibling more, cannot stop comparing. In the case of my older daughter, instead of telling her to stop, we helped her see comparing as one of her strengths and assigned her to be the one to cut cakes, break cookies, pour milk, etc. Because she was so good at getting things exactly the same, she became our expert comparer and is still the best at dividing things up. The difference is that she is now proud of it instead of embarrassed by it.

One other point here: Check to see that you don't believe you love one child more than the other. If you believe you do, you will find yourself constantly trying to make up for the disparity and your children will pick up on that for sure. They have radars for guilt.

Before you give in to your guilt, consider this. Even if one child is easier for you to enjoy than another (which is true for most parents), and whether or not you realize you love both (or all), and whether or not your parental love registers as an emotion, I still believe that you do love your children. Love is why you even care whether or not they feel loved; and love is what drives you to read articles like this in search of ways to reconnect.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No More Lies

A common problem for parents of preschoolers is what to do when they tell a lie. A recent book, Nurture Shock adds fuel to the fire by saying that all children lie. While this may be statistically true, it's not a very empowering view for parents or children. Try this one instead:

Children turn to lies when they don't have any other way to get what they want or need. But when they know we will help them (without giving up our boundaries), they don't lie. When lying has begun, you can reverse it by helping kids see why they would lie and by giving them an alternative approach.

Little kids are honest to a fault. When asked why they lie to get something, most little children will tell you, "I really wanted it!" It seems plain as day to them. Why else would an honest kid tell a story to get something?

Rather than asking a young child, "Why did you lie?" which leaves the child feeling dishonest, it's up to the parent to help the child find out why an honest kid would feel he or she needed to. When you look at what led up to the lie, there's a good chance that the child had already exhausted all the honest alternatives but none had worked. After asking directly, the child had probably even tried switching the words "I want it," to  "I need it," and it still didn't work. After trying these approaches time and time again, what else is a kid to do?

They really don't know, so it is up to us to give them some honest alternatives. Basically, a child lying is a parent's cue to help brainstorm some honest solutions.

SAYing WHAT YOU SEE openly and honestly without negative judgment, setting a boundary and offering a CAN DO would sound like this:
SWYS:     "You really wanted that and nothing you said or did worked, so you found something that did."

CAN DO:  "Making up a story about what you did is not OK with me, but there must be something you can do that is."
Now you brainstorm honest alternatives. For instance, if the rule is one snack a day, and the child wants two, rather than tell you she hadn't had one yet, she could ask for seconds. If seconds are not OK with you today, find a day when they would be OK, or make a special day once a month like "Two-Snack Day." If it's never OK to have 2 snacks, grant her wish in fantasy as in, "You want two today really badly, and you can only have one. Rats! You wish you could have two every day, or even three or four...snacks every where you turn, any time you want, a whole room full of snacks, sweet ones, chocolate ones, crunchy ones, blue ones, orange ones. I know! You can pretend they are everywhere and eat them all!"

By now little ones usually join in, add their own ideas, and keep pretending until they are done. Brainstorming with a child even in pretend shows the child you understand how much she wants something and that it's OK to want it, which believe it or not, is really the point anyway.

A little known truth is that kids must continue to communicate until they are heard. Understanding gets them heard and keeps them from needing to lie in the first place.

There's lots more about CAN DOs in the little SAY WHAT YOU SEE handbook posted online in full. It's a quick read and a simple approach for parents who want more from parenting than just well-behaved kids.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blogger Reviews SAY WHAT YOU SEE Handbook

I'm so honored! I just found out my SAY WHAT YOU SEE for Parents and Teachers handbook got a great review on a mommy blog in January 2010: 

Thank you, Monica!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When Needs Appear to Conflict

"How can I provide the support and attention my three-year old needs from me and help him to be more independent at the same time?" is a question that many parents face. (See Aceiatx's question in comment #1 on CAN DOs Work for All Ages)

The short answer is:  Provide support and attention when it's OK with you, and model independence when it's not.
SWYS:     "You are done eating and want me to play with you right now, and I need 5 more minutes to eat. Waiting is hard for you."

CAN DO:   "Must be something you can do so I can finish eating on my own and come play with you."
The child can come up with something to do to make waiting more fun, or you can change when the child waits. For instance:
CAN DO:   "You can start eating after I do so that we finish at the same time."
Then after the child has shown patience or independence while you eat, point that out when you join him in play:
STRENGTH: "You played by yourself while Mommy was eating. That shows you are independent."


STRENGTH: "You waited for five minutes while Mommy was eating. That shows you have patience."
The trick here is setting your boundary of finishing your dinner and sticking to it. That is one way of modeling healthy independence that sends the message to your child that he is OK on his own for a while, too.

CAN DOs give you a way to meet your child's needs within your boundaries. Children have three basic needs: experience, connection and power. To know which CAN DOs will work, look for the need. Your biggest clue to the need is what the child is already doing. For instance, the goal of whining and demanding, even at a low level, is control. That points to a need for personal power and explains why support and attention may not be enough and why the Mommy-time children crave often gets pushed beyond connection toward control.

To give a child permission to experience his personal power, you have to give it to yourself first. This is big. The importance of clean, clear, feel-good-about-yourself-boundary setting should not be underestimated in raising kids to be able to do the same. 

Meanwhile, since self-control and self-determination are the root of all power in our lives (not control of others), that is the direction to go with your CAN DOs. You decide what you will do, and he can decide what he will do inside your boundaries until he is old enough to set boundaries for himself.