Whose Problem Is it? Part I
None of us like it when our children have problems getting along with others. That may be in part why our approach to teaching your children how to solve their own problems has been met with such high regard by you parents. But we realize that we also have an obligation to offer some strategies which may complement our work at school and benefit you in problem solving with your children at home.
First, when a problem arises, ask yourself, “Who’s got the problem?” The solution belongs to that person.
If your child has the problem, you can help by listening empathetically without offering a solution or advice. Instead, you might ask a question, “I wonder what you could do to solve your problem?” In this way, your child will receive the message that she can solve her own problems and that you have confidence in her to do so.
When you have the problem, it’s helpful to wait until you have cooled down, and then you might say to your child, “I have a problem I’d like to solve with you. Is now a good time?” By asking the child this question, the air becomes neutralized and the foundation for respectfully working on a solution begins being laid. Then, using “I” statements, you might tell your child what you do not like and how you feel. It might sound like this, “I was embarrassed when my friend called me on the phone and you kept asking me if Kelly could come over and play. I would like it if you would wait until I’m off the phone to ask me questions.” By telling your child how you felt instead of what she did wrong, you are creating a safe environment, one in which your child may not feel the need to defend herself or her actions. Next your child will probably agree to wait until you are off the phone to ask you a question, and then you can thank her for helping you solve that problem. “Gee, I feel so much better knowing that the next time Barbara calls me I will be able to give her my full attention. Thanks for helping me with this. I really appreciate it.” What you were doing here was looking for a solution to your problem instead of blaming your child for being so disruptive.
This simple dialogue with your child may be enough to cause her to adjust her behavior and be considerate of you, but it may not, and the behavior may return. When this happens, sometimes a brief reminder of the past event may help, “Remember my phone call with Barbara.” If this doesn’t stop the disruptive behavior, wait until you’re off the phone and then say something like, “I’d like to talk with you about that problem you helped me solve. Remember the phone one. I was so grateful for your help the last time I was talking to Barbara. Do you remember what you decided?” Your child might say, “Oh, I was going to wait until you were off the phone to ask you my question.” “Yes, that’s how I remember it, too. Since it seemed hard for you to remember, I was wondering if there might be some signal I could give you when I’m on the phone that would help you remember. How about if I touch my watch as a reminder? Do you think that might help you to remember?” Probably your child will agree.
… to be continued
Whose Problem Is It? Part II
By using this kind of conversation with your child you are avoiding nagging, but you are also conveying to her that you do expect her to live up to her agreements, and that you will follow through consistently. “OK, so the next time I’m on the phone and you want to ask me something, what will you do?” Child: “I’ll wait until you’re off the phone.” “Right, and if you forget, what will I do?” Child: “You’ll give me that watch signal.” “Great! We’re all set. Oh, Honey, just in the event that you decide to ignore the signal and you keep asking me stuff while I’m on the phone, I want you to know that I’ll be unwilling to answer those questions even when I’m off the phone. So we’re all set!”
Later the phone rings; it’s for you. You start talking and your child comes to you and interrupts you. You cheerfully touch your watch and look at your child. Hopefully, she gives you the “Oh, I remember” look and leaves you alone. But maybe she’s just so eager and impatient that she ignores the signal and keeps on pestering you. You turn away, tell your friend you’ll get back to her, hang up, and go about your business. Your child follows you and says, “Oh, Mommy, I was so excited, I just couldn’t wait. I know I was supposed to follow the watch signal, but this is just too important. I had to ask you right now because Kelly is outside wanting to know if I can go play with her at her house. So Mommy, is it all right? Can I go play with her over there?”
Cheerfully and respectfully you ask, “Remember our agreement about the phone? Well, do you remember my agreement? Yes, that’s right. I’m unwilling to answer your questions now.” “Well, when will you be willing?” “I’m not willing now.” Your line doesn’t change; it’s the broken record answer, “I’m not willing now.”
It’s very important that you don’t get mad or react to her behavior. We could expect her to act out now since she’s not getting what she wanted from you. But you’re a great teacher, so you’re not going to cave in. If it turns into a real scene, one of you will probably benefit from removing yourself to your own self-quieting space. If she has one, you might suggest she use it to help comfort herself. If you need the space yourself, go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. Stay there until you feel better.
When you or she returns from self quieting, resist the urge to lecture. Just turn the page. Resume life at home as if nothing has happened. Let the consequence of her own behavior teach her the lesson.
We parents and teachers need to remind ourselves that we are teaching our children the skills we want them to learn by our behavior even at times when it doesn’t feel like a lesson to us. Children do not learn to be cooperative as a result of being lectured to, reprimanded, or punished. They may adjust their behavior as a result of some of these strategies, but they do it because you are temporarily more powerful and they are afraid not to behave or because they temporarily want to please you. We want our children to learn to behave as a result of wanting to be cooperative, wanting to make contributions to family life, and wanting to feel an important and valued member of our family.
I hope that the techniques the children are learning to use for solving problems flow into your homes and into our communities to create better places for us all. It was Maria Montessori’s belief that in this way world peace could be realized. She highly valued the potential of children.
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Director/Elementary 1 Teacher