The idea of a pause before reacting keeps appearing in my life, from a meditation teacher I spoke with recently that helps moms be more mindful, to a reference to Le Pause, the way French mothers are encouraged to wait 5 minutes when a sleeping baby starts crying to help the child learn how to get themselves back to sleep. It reminded me of this article I wrote a few years ago.
The “Hmmmm” Response
Your 9 year-old child tells you about a problem. For example:
- “I forgot my worksheet at school.”
- “I left my jacket at practice.”
- “I need poster board for the project that’s due tomorrow.”
- “My jeans are in the wash and I have to wear them today.”
Kids are not perfect. We all forget sometimes. We all make mistakes. How do we typically handle their comments? We come up with an answer, we problem-solve. In our minds it happens in a split second because we’ve been doing it our whole lives.
It might go like this:
Child: “I forgot my worksheet at school”
Mom: “Well I guess we’re going to have to be late for dance class and go back and get it.”
Quick, efficient, problem solved, right? Maybe for the moment, however, how is the child feeling? (guilty, inadequate, stupid) How is the parent feeling? (aggravated) Is the child going to do something differently next time? Maybe, maybe not.
Kids have much less experience than we do. The question is, if we solve the problem for them, how will they get that experience if they don’t have to solve it themselves? That’s where “Hmmmm” comes in. Rather than immediately giving them a solution, stop and think “Who’s problem is this?” and if it is theirs, acknowledge with empathy that it is a problem for them. The conversation could go like this:
Child: “I forgot my worksheet at school.” **
Mom: “Hmmmm, that is a problem. I wonder what you could do to solve that?”
Child: “Can you take me back there now?”
Mom: “We’ll be late to your dance class if we do that. What other ideas do you have?”
Child: “Mom, why can’t you take me?”
Mom: “You have a commitment to be at dance class on time. I know you are a good problem solver, let’s think about other ways you could get your worksheet or a copy of it.”
Child: “I can’t think of any.”
Mom: “Who might be in your class that would have a copy?”
Mom: “Can you call her and ask if she could scan it and send it to you?”
Child: “I guess.”
Mom: “If that doesn’t work out, what will happen if you don’t hand it in tomorrow?”
Child: “I’ll get a zero…but my teacher lets us miss one assignment per semester, I could use that, or I could get to school early and try to finish it before school starts.”
Mom: “Those are possibilities too. Which one would you like to try?”
Child: “Can I use your phone to call Ashley now?”
Mom: “Sure, we have to leave for dance in 5 minutes.”
Refusing to take over the child’s problem and coaching them through solving it themselves trains the child to think of many solutions, empowers them to take responsibility for their own actions, and encourages them to depend on themselves. Over time the child will stop trying to turn the problem over to you because they’ve prevented it or solved it themselves already.
“Hmmmm” gives you the opportunity to pause and remember to leave the responsibility for solving the problem where it belongs, and grow more responsible, confident, empowered children.
**Note: At the initial statement of the problem, watch your self-talk. If you say to yourself “I can’t believe she forgot AGAIN!”, you will immediately be annoyed, stressed, and unable to calmly deal with the situation. If you can replace that with saying to yourself “How can I use this to help her learn how to solve this problem herself?”, you’ll stay calmer and see it as a training opportunity rather than a huge emotional inconvenience.
Book NOW for a complimentary 30 min breakthrough parenting phone session with me to hear how you can do this at Book a Session. There are more ways to help kids develop problem solving skills and manage your self talk.