Like many of you who are riding out the coronavirus pandemic with little ones at home, I have been challenged to keep my three-year-old occupied and off her iPad while her dad and I work.
After struggling through massive parental guilt around plugging my daughter into her device and headphones for hours on end, I recently decided to stock our home instead with “art stations” filled with supplies I ordered online. This was my plan for heading off the meltdowns and incessant catastrophes designed to ensnare parental attention.
Within a couple of days we were up to our eyeballs in glue, glitter, pompoms, pipe cleaners, paint, bath bomb and slime making kits, play dough and chalk.
I was particularly excited when the snow globe making kit arrived.
“This is my ticket to at least an hour, maybe two, of uninterrupted mommy office time,” I thought, gleefully.
I set my daughter up in our living room with a wooden art board, several tubes of colored clay, an instruction sheet featuring a wide assortment of animals, flowers, people and other creative examples of what kids can make to go inside their globes, and headed to my laptop.
Not five minutes later, Lexi was howling with frustration. She couldn’t get the clay to mold into a tiny mouth for her figure. After 10 or 15 minutes of demonstrating how to roll the clay, cut it and shape it, I returned to my work station, breathed a sigh of relief and resumed my project.
Then, the cry for mommy, again. This time, it was the “dolly’s” hair that she needed help attaching.
This process repeated itself until I said in exacerbation, “Lexi, you are a big girl, you can figure it out. I have to work now. I can’t help you anymore.”
And of course, this enraged her. Out into the room went rolling pins, the doll’s clay limbs, and the instruction sheet as Lexi went into full tantrum mode.
“I can’t, I can’t!” she screamed. On it went for a good five minutes, escalating into full blown, raging tears and screams.
My vain attempts at collecting the kit’s pieces and patching the figurine back together and soothing her were rebuffed with even more emphatic, “no’s!” and “I don’t want to’s!”
Then I remembered Amy’s 9 Magical Questions, and thought, “Aha! a perfect laboratory moment!”
I grabbed my phone and snapped pics of Lexi in peak howl mode. Next, I memorized the first three questions – and went into action.
“Are you OK?’ I asked.
No response. More screaming.
“What do you need?” I asked.
More sobbing and wailing.
“Oh, no, it’s not working,” I thought. But I persevered and tried another question.
“Do you want me to respond, or just listen?”
This one caught her attention. She didn’t stop crying, but, for the briefest of milliseconds she paused and I thought I saw a flicker of a shift, from, “Yy mom is the bad guy,” to “What? How’d she know that?”
“What do you need?” I repeated.
“A wet wipe,” she said. “To blow my nose”
Yes, a pause! I got the wipe. The crying escalated again. Apparently now she was equipped for a longer cry.
I tried another question: “Are you feeling frustrated because you can’t make the clay do what you want it to?”
This shifted things in a noticeable way. She brought the crying down to where she could speak between little sobs.
“Yes, she said and nodded her head.
“I get that,” I told her. “I get frustrated too when things don’t turn out the way I want. It’s really challenging to make the little eyes and mouth stick with the clay.”
I thought we were making headway now.
She went back to crying.
“OMG,” I thought. “This is where I want to talk away.”
I circled back to the first questions, and doubled down on them.
“Are you ok?” I asked. “What do you need? Lexi, what do you need right now?”
“Ice cream,” she said. “Ice cream to feel better.”
“Ok,” I said. “Strawberry or mint chocolate chip?”
To myself I wondered, “Am I wrecking all this conscious parenting by trading sugar for an end to the tantrum antics”’
“Who cares,” I answered myself. The tears had completely stopped.
With a somewhat mournful look, Lexi shoved ice cream into her face while I snapped my “after photo.”
“Can I have another bowl?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
I hope you will try the Magical Questions and let us know how they work for you and your family.
As Amy shares in Episode 34: The Magic of Questions in Parenting, these questions work because they shift moments when one kid hurts another, or a kid feels hurt by a parent or situation– instead of blaming & shaming, we invoke kindness & compassion.