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Grownups Say the Darndest Things (Q & A)

I  recently received the following question via email from a friend.  With her permission, I am sharing it and my answer.
My 4 year old daughter was born without all of her fingers.  It causes her no issues in daily life. However, she does get a lot of comments, questions and stares.  We are working with her on ways to answer questions, ask people to stop staring, etc…but it doesn’t seem to be sticking.  She prefers just to give people the “evil eye” and make a face at them if she feels uncomfortable.  Should we consider therapy for this?
  1. I think that the evil eye seems pretty darn appropriate for the time being.  Geesh, people can be so rude, even grownups, why should we expect the 4 year old to be the mature one.  I really mean that–it would be a little different if she were 16, but she’s just 4!  Keep giving her the information and guidance about a better way to respond, but for her age, I think the evil eye is a pretty appropriate response.  It will probably take many, many conversations about how better to respond before that will ‘stick.’
  2. I would encourage you to step in and set the limit/advocate for her for now, too.  “Excuse me, but I noticed that you (adult) are staring. It makes my daughter feel uncomfortable when people stare at her, so I’m making a friendly request for you to stop.”  or something like that.
  3. With kids I might just go ahead and answer whatever question they are asking (or might be thinking.)  Something like “‘Oh, nothing happened, it’s just the way she was born.  Her fingers look different but they still do the same things your fingers do.  She loves to color and ride her bike and play catch, how about you?  Do you like to do those things, too?  What’s your favorite… blah blah change the subject…”

By doing the things I suggest in #s 2 and 3, you are role modeling what you want your daughter to do (and how you want her to “be”),  taking the pressure off of her having to both handle her feelings about the rudeness/intrusion while trying to rise above it to be polite, plus it’s got a wonderful “I’m on your side and I will protect you from the goobers we encounter out there” feel to it.  Very relationship-reinforcing.  :^)

Give me that water bottle right now!

A father told me a story recently of a family outing that had a rough ending.  Loading up in the car after a fun bike ride, the dad asked his older daughter to share her water bottle with her baby sister who was crying and asking for water.  Older daughter refused, several times, with rudeness, ignoring, and defiance.  It quickly became a power struggle, and this dad told me later that he was so mad that he came “this” close to just yanking the water bottle out of her hand.

I think we’ve all been there (I know I have.) Especially when we ourselves are tired, hungry, emotionally drained, or stressed–our children’s negative behaviors can really push us to–or past–our limits.  Yanking, yelling, whatever your version of “not parenting the way I want to” is… everyone has had that moment.

When this father and I talked about this incident later, he was still full of self-doubt.  What was he “supposed” to do?  His daughter was being uncooperative, unkind, defiant, and disrespectful–all traits that we parents believe that we are supposed to teach our kids NOT to be.  He wondered if he had done the wrong thing by letting her “get away with” those bad behaviors.  He worried that he was teaching her that she doesn’t have to respect him, or his limits, or his authority.

My take on this scene is that the immediate need was a moment’s pause, a deep breath to help everyone regain their inner balance, even just a little.  In that moment, here are a few items our higher selves might be able to remember:

  • Right now, we are ALL tired and thirsty and hungry, so no one is at their best… these behaviors are definitely related to our physical states.
  • When a person is stressed (tired/thirsty…) they CANNOT learn.
  • This child of mine is, usually, pretty darn cool and cooperative and kind.  The behavior in front of me now is NOT the norm.  (refer back to #1.)
  • I need to calm my own anxieties about raising a good kid here, and remember that taking the long view is key in parenting.
  • When my brain is peaceful, I can see solutions or options that would otherwise be overlooked.  In this situation, there were other water bottles available, so that the immediate need (baby’s thirst) could be handled.
  • The non-immediate issues (defiance, etc) can be handled later! When we have all come back to our normal selves (rested, watered, fed, etc) I can bring this incident back up for discussion with my child.  Her ability and likelihood to listen, discuss and absorb will be 1000% improved.

When we are peaceful, we have better perspective, more creativity, and are more effective in whatever we do.  So when you find yourself in the moments of high conflict and parenting stress–just try to remember to take a breath.  Then take another… and very soon your own inner best self will show you what comes after that.

Why attend this workshop?

The Beyond Birds and Bees workshop is coming up in about 4 weeks.  It’s been a while since I’ve given it, and I was thinking about it today–looking forward to it, really.  BBB comes in a 3 hour format (the full workshop) as well as a 45 minute ‘sampler’ that I give at schools all over Austin.  The sampler is very popular, and I was just sitting here comparing the two.

Three hours on this topic (healthy sexual development, signs of a problem, and how to talk about sex with your kids) might seem like a lot–especially when there is a 45 minute version available… after all, what parent has extra time to spare!  (not me!)  So why ‘should’ you take a 3 hour workshop on it?  There are many reasons, but here are my two favorite:

1.  You can ask questions, get specialized feedback, and really walk away with information that is specifically tailored to your family’s needs.

2.  You get to practice!  The sampler is great, but all you get to do in the sampler is listen to ME talk about talking about sex like it’s no big deal.  In your head you might be thinking that it doesn’t seem so hard now, but there is a big difference between thinking and speaking, and especially between being on the hotseat to answer a question you didn’t see coming!

With the full BBB workshop, you’ll practice, and it makes a world of difference.  Check it out!

Talking with kids about the local wildfires

Yesterday, I spoke with Tara Trower of the Austin American Statesman for an article she was writing about talking with kids about the local wildfires.  I smiled a little when I read the article, because the other therapist she spoke with (Seanna Crosbie of ACGC) apparently said the same exact things I did.  Reassuring, actually :^).

Read the article here.