My favorite comedian is Brian Regan. He has a bit related to parenting that I absolutely love. Here’s my paraphrase:
A child is beaming about the balloon he just received. Unfortunately, he accidentally lets go and the balloon flies away. The child begins to scream and cry. His parent responds to the crying by saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a balloon. We’ll get you another one.”
Brian Regan encourages us to look at this from the child’s perspective. He gives this example: Imagine it was your wallet floating away. You would probably freak out, just like the child. Now imagine someone responding in the same condescending tone, “What is wrong with you? It’s just a wallet; we’ll get you a new one.”
It’s a great reminder to parents. Every now and then, stop and look at things from your child’s perspective. What difference could this make in your parenting? In your relationship with your kids?
Changing perspectives models empathy:
Yes, everything really is a big deal when you are in school. It doesn’t matter if it’s a break-up, a fight, or gossip in the lunch room. When you are in middle school or high school, all of these things can seem like life or death issues.
You could respond by rolling your eyes and saying, “Get over it. They must not be good friends if they did that to you.” Or, by changing perspectives, you may be able to say, “Wow, that must have hurt. It’s really hard when friends spread rumors!” This kind of response builds relationships and encourages communication – which is especially difficult during the middle school and high school years.
Changing perspectives decreases tantrums:
As a toddler, everyone around you is huge. There are tons of things you don’t understand. Lots of things that are off limits. And if you don’t do what the grown-up’s demand, they pick you up and physically move you from one place to the other.
Think about the placement of candy and junk food at the grocery store. Look at it from a child’s point-of-view – it’s so colorful and friendly! Rather than dealing with a meltdown in isle 5, set up the expectations in advance. “We’re going to the store to buy things for dinner; we will not be buying candy.” Plan ahead for those tempting check-out lanes, play I-spy or let him unload things from the cart.
Changing perspectives leads to more reasonable expectations and consequences:
Sibling squabbles. Catching your kids in a lie. Misplaced gloves, bikes, brand new tennis shoes. The list goes on and on. Parents are constantly trying to get their kids to listen, be responsible, make good choices and remember the rules.
The reality is, kids are still kids. They are going to make bad decisions simply because they are not adults. Their brains are still growing and maturing. It doesn’t mean letting them off the hook, instead it means looking at their limitations and helping them be successful. Maybe you use a visual chart as a reminder for your pre-reader, put a small scoop in the dog food so your child scoops the correct amount, or create a written contract with your new driver before they hit the road.
So, the next time you are engaged in a battle with a tantruming 2 year old, trying to rationalize with an emotional teenager, or giving your child yet another consequence for forgetting his backpack – STOP. Imagine this situation from your child’s perspective. Do you need to offer some empathy? Change the environment? Or set more reasonable expectations?
If nothing else, maybe you can smile as you imagine how someone would react to watching their wallet float away.