The following heart warming story was written by Cindy, a mother who was attending a Parent Effectiveness Training course that I was conducting. She had just been learning about the importance of actively listening to children when they have a problem to assist them identifying their need. She was also learning how parents can then facilitate problem solving a solution that is mutually satisfactory and meets both child and parents needs.
The outcome of this story could have been vastly different should Cindy have chosen to use roadblocks and order her daughter to hurry up and put her pencils away immediately, threaten her with a consequence, bribe her to hurry up, moralise that good girls listen to their mothers, or even name call her and tell her that she was lazy.
As you will see the communication in this instance did not take very long compared to the resultant defensiveness and resistance that could have ensued should Cindy have used roadblocking communication. Smouldering, unresolved and unidentified feelings of upset, confusion and grief would have lingered and likely displaced as tensions and anger against her mother or others. Instead, warm, loving, respectful communication and feelings were the result because Tatiana did not feel like a culprit. She felt heard and understood and consequently wanted to help.
Written by Tatiana’s mother Cindy
It’s 6.50am, time to get dressed and all ready for breakfast and then, catch the school bus at 8.48 am, sharp!
As I came down the stairs I checked on my 5 year old daughter, Tatiana, and asked her: “Are you dressed yet?” and this time, to my surprise, I didn’t hear that “Yes mommy! Almost ready!”
Instead, she said, “No mommy, I am very busy.”
I’m just thinking: time, morning rush, breakfast… school bus! We can’t miss it!!!!! So, I stopped in the middle of the staircase, waited for three seconds and thought of my choices… I knew what I had to do.
She was sitting by her desk: paper, crayons and markers all over the place, and I thought it would take hours to get her to stop doing whatever was keeping her so busy,
As I walked, I kept thinking about how to deal with that!! I came close to her and the following is our conversation (I am trying to remember every single word we said!):
Me: So, what you are doing actually seems to be very important.
Tatiana: Yeap mom, it is. I MUST finish it, today, right now, it is very, very important (she kept drawing and wrote ‘I LOVE -heart- U”).
Me: Would you like to talk about it? I would love to know what important project you are working on! And maybe together we can work something out so you can finish what you are doing, and we can make it on time to catch the school bus; I wouldn’t like you to miss the bus or skip breakfast.
Tatiana: (very calm!) See? This is a drawing, and it is for grandma. I must finish it today, because I want to mail it to her soon; I want her to have it so she knows how much I love her before she passes away. If she passes away and she didn’t get this drawing, she will never know how much I love her. See?????
Then it hit me!!! My father passed away a few months ago…. she just broke my heart!! And I understood what she needed. I was almost speechless, and tried my best…
Me: Oh, I see… I DO understand how much this means to you!!!! Grandma knows how much you love her! Still, I know she will be very happy to get this very special drawing from you in the mail!
I can only think of something, do you think you could use ten more minutes to try to finish it, and then just get dressed, have breakfast and brush your teeth, like REALLY fast, so you can catch the school bus? And if TEN minutes are not enough to have it done, maybe you could do that right after you’re back from school?
Tatiana: Yeap! I am sure I can finish it in 10 minutes! Just tell me when time’s up, and I will get dressed SUPER fast! (She was so happy at this stage that she started working really fast to finish it!)
After 10 minutes I told her that now it was really time to get dressed, just as we had agreed… she stopped, asked me to keep it in a ‘safe’ place… got ready, did everything REALLY fast, and got on the school bus at 8.48am…
I was so glad I had listened to her, instead of yelling or getting upset…we didn’t have to argue!! I didn’t spoil that moment for her.
She was so very proud of her drawing, and also because she made it on time!!!
I had made the right decision! Stopping for three seconds to think about my choices on dealing with the situation was totally worth it.
Postscript: Cindy shared with me a tool that she devised when she is trying to calm herself, to rethink her approach and to use P.E.T. skills instead. She takes a deep breath and says to herself, “One, two, three, P.E.T.”.