We are now just three weeks away from the Positive Parenting Conference and there is so much goodness to share this year! One masterclass that is a must-watch is with someone with whom many of you are already familiar: Julie King.
Julie’s book, How to Talk When Kids Won’t Listen: Whining, Fighting, Meltdowns, Defiance, and Other Challenges of Childhood, is a thorough and extremely helpful follow up to her earlier gem How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen. Both of Julie’s books give very practical ideas of how to connect with our children and make them feel heard (which, in turn, makes most parenting situations easier). Spoiler alert, this is a really important part of the overall message!
Julie writes with a very personable tone; it often feels like she is sitting in your living room having a chat about parenting. This masterclass has that tone as well–and this time you can be in your living room with Julie right there with you (well, on screen).
As a highly regarded parenting workshop leader and presenter, Julie has conducted presentations for schools, parents, professional organizations and companies of all sizes for several decades. She is also a dear friend of the AFineParent community and has done numerous live calls within the Academy.
I was the researcher for this masterclass so I got an early look at all the goodness Julie has to share with us. While there are so many helpful ideas in this class, I decided on three that I hope will give you a little something to think about until you can watch the whole masterclass.
#1: Find and Acknowledge the Hidden Feeling Inside a “Question”
Julie talks about two different types of questions our kids ask that may seem like they are looking for an answer when they are actually sharing a feeling. The first question type is one that invites us into a conflict: i.e. “Why do I have to go now?” Our child is not actually looking for an explanation of why you need to leave at that moment. What they really need is for us to hear and acknowledge that they are disappointed that they need to leave. Recognizing the true reason behind this type of question can help us avoid the argument and instead focus on validating the feeling behind it.
A few days ago, my six-year-old was having a blast skiing and didn’t want to go home. When she said “Why do we have to leave now?” in an exasperated and somewhat explosive tone, I was tempted to list all of the reasons why we needed to go: her brother was tired, it was starting to rain, I could see she was tired, we were all a bit hungry, etc. However, I bit my tongue and instead said “It sounds like you are having so much fun skiing that you don’t want to leave.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I want to stay and keep skiing.”
In the past I have taken the route of explanation, giving different reasons that we have to leave, none of which satisfied my daughter. With Julie’s words in my mind, I tried a different approach this time. “It can be hard to stop doing something that is so fun. I’m disappointed our ski day is done too.” Rather than entering into a battle of who needs what and why we are making the decision to go, my daughter felt heard in her feelings and that acknowledgement was what she really needed.
The other type of question that Julie talks about comes in the form of a request for advice that is actually a hidden feeling. For example, perhaps our child is trying out a new camp this summer and they don’t know anyone else that will be there. They may ask “How will I ever make friends?”, with the hidden message underneath actually being, “I’m nervous about making new friends at camp.”
Instead of launching into strategies and ideas for making friends, we could answer by saying, “Making new friends can be hard” in a supportive tone. Not only are we acknowledging an emotion that is lying under the surface, but by pausing before responding, we allow for better understanding and sweeter moments of connection with our child.
You might be thinking “Ahhh! I’m not a detective!” Or, maybe you secretly have always wanted to be a detective and are excited for the challenge! It can be tricky to guess the emotion behind our child’s questions, but the more that we get in the habit of trying to connect with our children and tune in to what they are actually saying, the easier it will become.
I have a post-it note on my snack cabinet (yes, where I stash my dark chocolate covered pretzels) that says “Validate, don’t explain.” My child is frequently asking “Why?” when she really needs validation of her feelings. I don’t think she does it consciously, but that question comes more naturally to her than her telling me that she is having a hard time.
The next time your child asks you a question, pause to think what they are really asking of you. It might be that they want or need an explanation. It might also be that they just need some love and support!
#2: Problem Solving is a Versatile and Amazing Tool!
We use problem solving at home as often as I can remember to encourage it (which isn’t often enough). It always feels good! Now, after watching this masterclass, I am inspired to use it all the time. Julie gives examples of using it with kids of all ages in a myriad of scenarios, all in very effective ways. She even gives an example of how you could use it with your own parents if you do not agree with the boundary setting in their house. Problem solving is an essential skill to use as a parent, or even simply as a human in relationships with other humans.
What makes the process of problem solving so effective is that it allows all parties involved to have their feelings and perspectives heard. We boil the problem down to a simple, solvable issue and everyone gets to be participate in coming up with solutions. The problem-solving process creates major buy-in and can even be a fun activity, with kids having the opportunity to come up with solutions that we wouldn’t even have thought of!
Julie shares a great example of this when she was leaving the park with her young child and their friend. Even though they had a fantastic and fun playdate, both kids rushed to the front seat and immediately started fighting over who was going to get to sit there. The children nearly came to blows so Julie stepped in. She skillfully acknowledged the feelings of each. She addressed each and heard that they both desperately wanted to sit in the front.
Still stuck, she asked each child why they needed to sit in the front. One child liked to look out the window. The other child liked being in control of the music. So the problem was that both of them really wanted the front seat for different reasons. What could they do? She asked the two of them and without missing a beat, one of them suggested they (the one who liked to look out the window) sit in the front and the other (who liked to control the music) could sit in the back and get to choose the music. They both happily agreed. Julie was left in awe of the children, grateful she took the time to pause and listen, and happy that they were able to figure out a solution that allowed for shared feelings and needs to be met.
Problem solving is not always that neat and tidy; however, even when it looks messy, it most often leaves people feeling heard and seen because some of their needs have been met. And, because they got to be a part of creating the solution, it is more likely to stick.
Problem solving can happen in the moment; in fact, it may be most effective when it is done within the real moments of life. This morning we had an in-the-moment problem solving scenario when my six-year-old was really upset that there were no blueberries in her pancakes. I sat with her and heard her feelings. She was mad, frustrated, and sad that her dad didn’t know to put blueberries inside the pancakes. There were some big tears.
Together, we figured out that the problem was that the pancakes were already cooked with no blueberries, and we didn’t have any more pancake batter. What could we do? She tried to make a sandwich with the blueberries in the middle. They fell out. She tried to smush blueberries on top of the pancakes. Too mushy. Ultimately, she made little roll-ups with blueberries in the middle and dipped them in our freshly home-boiled maple syrup. Yum. She even came around to telling her dad the pancakes were pretty good after all.
Problem solving can also happen outside of the moment, at a time when people are calmer, especially when we are problem solving about a situation that is more intense and stressful. For example, my family has been trying to figure out how to peacefully and calmly get ready for school in the morning, all the while actually making it out the door on time.
My daughter and I have done a few problem-solving sessions about this, and we are still in progress. With a bigger problem like this, it is natural to have a problem-solving session, come up with a great solution, try it out for a week, and then revisit with another problem-solving session to assess if the solution is working. The continued conversation can bring up new feelings for both my daughter (I get frustrated when my little brother has to poop right when we need to leave the house!) and myself (I’m sad that my tea gets cold because I am running around helping everyone else). This is the step I need to remind myself about the most. Julie reminds us not to rush hearing the feelings because it lays the foundation for solving the problem.
If you are new to problem solving, I recommend finding something small that you think would be a fun place to start. It could be as simple as how do we choose what to watch for movie night? Or what should we have for dinner on Saturday? Once you hear the feelings and identify the problem, let the ideas fly! Kids love it when you write ideas down because it makes them feel important. And remember it is a brainstorm, so all ideas get included (even throwing their sister out the window or having ice cream for dinner!) Later you will go back to make sure the final solution is something you all agree on and keeps everyone safe.
#3 Teach Skills Rather Than Punish During Conflict Between Kids
All parents, regardless of the number of children they parent, have likely observed their child experience conflict with other children. Conflict can arise in any form: between siblings, friends, teammates, on the playground, recess, playdate, or in your own home. Watching our children struggle with conflict can be tough. Personally, it gets my hackles up and my nervous system starts to flare. Somewhere deep inside of me is the body memory of fighting with my older brother (who is a wonderful and kind human) and, without conscious pause buttons and self-soothing, I feel myself automatically go into fight mode.
Fortunately, a few deep breaths (or lots of other forms of pause buttons!) and I am able to remember in that moment, I need to:
- Keep my kids safe, and
- Help them learn the skills to manage conflict.
For a variety of reasons many of us are tempted to punish our child in the heat of conflict. This is especially true when we are concerned that one of the children involved may get hurt as a result of the conflict; we are likely tempted to rush in and punish the one doing the hurting. Julie asks us to rethink this. She says,
“When we punish one kid for attacking another, it may satisfy your urge for revenge, but it doesn’t make that little brother any safer.”
Oftentimes we don’t know what happened right before the hurting, and it is important that we stay open to the perspectives of both children. She also says “Punishment is a distraction from what we want them to learn. It doesn’t give the skills for resolving conflict.”
Instead, we can teach skills to our children for managing tough situations, which will ultimately make conflict safe. Julie suggests we take a few steps in the moment to do so, including:
- First, we step in by interrupting the conflict with a phrase such as: “I can’t let you hurt each other.”
- Then, we help them resolve. We can do this by acknowledging feelings of both children and equally stating each child’s perspectives without taking sides.
- And then, once we are able to hear the perspectives and each child feels heard, we go back to problem solving. Sometimes kids might just move on once their feelings are heard. Sometimes we can work together and problem solve the situation.
“Figuring out how to resolve conflicts in a way that respects everyone’s needs without hurting each other, this is probably one of the most important things that we all need to learn in life.”
Even as adults, this is likely still a work in progress to most of us!
With two little kids, I get a lot of opportunities to practice the skill of helping coach kids during conflict. Sometimes my own emotions or triggers get in the way. When I can calm my own reaction and show up in a neutral place to hear each child’s feelings and then support them through problem solving, it feels so awesome. I can see the power behind this when they come up with a solution, both agree to it and often they end up playing together in a sweet way. Both kids feel valued, safe, and have the opportunity to practice a new skill.
This can sound overwhelming and time consuming, and reality is that it is time consuming. It also won’t always go according to plan and sometimes it won’t resolve as we’d hoped. Even so, it is an investment in the future of each of our children and of our family as a whole. Julie goes as far as to say “Secretly what we are trying to create here is an opportunity for world peace.” I love that. We can be growing peacemakers in our home and not only can it benefit our family, it can benefit the world.
I am only scratching the surface of what Julie has to share in her masterclass. She has so much valuable experience from working with hundreds of families. Her consistency in returning to acknowledging feelings is powerful, and you will be able to see all the beautiful examples she shares of problem solving and showing up for our kids in the ways they need.
I hope you join us in a few weeks for the conference and make sure to watch Julie’s Communication Tools Masterclass, as well as all of the other amazing masterclasses that we’ve featured the past few weeks. What will be your biggest takeaways from the Positive Parenting Conference this year?