5 minute read

Ask Flora

In the “Ask Flora” column, you can ask Flora McCormick, a Licensed Counselor and Parenting Coach, your parenting questions (about kids between ages 2 and 10) and read her advice here monthly.

Q: With my 6-year-old, it seems like when I try to validate his upset feelings it just sends him deeper into those feelings. And sometimes I don’t want to validate his feelings because he is complaining about ridiculous things, blaming others for everything and not taking responsibility for his part in the situation.

A: First, consider a review of your validation phrases to see if they are accidentally missing the mark. “I know you feel…” or “I understand you feel…” can actually deflate the validation by coming off as superior.

Instead, try the simple template of “You seem (feeling word)” or “I notice you are (feeling word)” followed by a 10-second pause. This pause allows them to either share about that feeling or just sit in the supportive, non-verbal space of the moment.

Then, follow with asking instead of telling. Ask “How could you solve that?” Or “What would you like to do about that?” Instead of telling them how to solve the problem or how to cheer up.

These small shifts can make a huge difference in terms of how the validation is received by your child. As well as a likely improvement with their problem-solving and ownership of the solutions.

Q: I have a toddler that is saying 'no' to everything! We don’t even use the word ‘no’ very much with her, so I don’t know where it’s coming from or how to stop it.

A: Toddlers are such a unique chapter of humanity. Picture yourself being 2, 3 or 4 years old. You are so excited to have more freedoms: walking, talking, running and carrying your own things. It’s very exciting. Meanwhile, these tall humans around you seem to have a lot of opinions on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. For many young children, up to 80% of the words they hear from adults involve some form of “do this” or “stop that.”

Toddlers get very frustrated when their newfound freedoms are met with so many forms of correction or direction. Without more advanced cognitive abilities, saying “no” may be their way of trying to exercise more power in the situation. That makes this a great chapter to engage the toddler in ways that empower them to be the one with the answers, because we have cleverly used questions instead of commands.

Phrases like:

» What’s next in our bedtime routine chart? » Where do our shoes belong? » How can your hands play with the sand on the ground (instead of in the air)?

This overrides the likelihood of a no response because of what scientifically happens in the brain. Engaging their brain to solve the problem triggers the part of the child’s brain that is eager to do the right thing.

Q: Our 8-year-old is so easily triggered. He can’t stand to lose at games, or have anything not go exactly how he was expecting. How do I help him learn to be more patient and flexible?

A: Ugh. Let’s be real honest here. Situations like this take me to the deepest levels of frustration with my child, because of the deeper questions/ reflections that come up in my mind: » Are we raising a brat/bully? » He seems so sad/mad all the time. » Where did we go wrong? » I just want him to be happy!

If any of these have come up for you, I want you to know your child is probably NOT a brat/bully. And you are not failing. It sounds like you have a sensitive child who struggles with flexibility, and likely doesn’t enjoy how out-of-control he feels in those moments either. Some things you can do to support his growth are:

» Whenever possible, talk through potential disappointments before the situation occurs, to prepare for handling the disappointment:

“We are about to play a game that is sometimes disappointing. What could you do if you start to feel that way?”

» Use physicality (not reason) to help calm him when he is triggered/angry. A small 30-second silent hug, or pause with a gesture of physical connection can go much farther than a spew of advice in the heat of the moment.

When he is calm, put him in the driver's seat on solving the problem. Ask, “What are some things that help you calm down when you are getting mad?” Or “How can I let you know (in a respectful way) that it seems you could use a 30-second break to cool off?” This is important because his sensitivity may lead him to feel quickly defensive and argumentative if you suggest solutions.

Help him gain understanding of his sensitivity to frustration by talking about it as a muscle he is working on growing. More advice on how to grow that “muscle” can be found in Ross Green’s Raising Human Beings.