I don’t want this shirt!

It’s 15 minutes till the school bus arrives. K, my first-grader comes to me and says: “I don’t want to wear this shirt to school!” I think to myself: “Oh, not now, I don’t have time for this…” and with that thought, my face immediately shows my distress. What should I do? Reason with her about why this is a good shirt? Give her another shirt? Tell her I don’t understand why she couldn’t tell me this last night when we were choosing her school outfit?

I’ve certainly done all the above. And each time, even before I launched into it, I knew I had to brace myself for a fight. It would go something like this:

Me — Honey, this is your favorite color, why don’t you put it on so we don’t miss the bus.

K — No, I don’t like it anymore.

Me — But why? What’s changed?

K — I just don’t like this color any more. It’s ugly.

Me — Ok, so how about this one? This has a nice pleat.

K — No, that’s ugly too. I don’t like pleats.

Me — Gosh, you’re being so difficult. Why didn’t you tell me all this last night?

K — I didn’t know [shouting] …

… and on and on. I would constantly find myself wondering what the heck is going on with my child. If I was lucky, one of the shirts I would offer her would be accepted. Or I would have to resort to being firm and “set a boundary” about what is an acceptable choice or when is a good time to change one’s mind.

Is there a different way?

Fortunately, there is. For starters, when our child approaches us with a problem and we respond by using logic, advising, warning, labeling, etc. all we are doing is putting roadblocks on the way of our communication. We end up not understanding what is going on with the child and, as a result, not really being able to help them effectively. Instead, we can start with attending, listening, and reflecting. Obviously, she is having a problem. So, maybe I can say,

Me — Oh, it sounds like you don’t like this shirt any more.

Of course, I’m just guessing and depending on whatever is going on and what else I know about my child and the shirt, etc. I might guess differently. The act of guessing and reflecting communicates that I’m listening and trying to understand. And I might guess wrong. Then, maybe it would go like this:

K — No, I still like it, it’s my favorite color.

Me — I see, so you still like the shirt but you don’t want to put it on today.

K — Yeah, it’s just that Maddie has one just like it.

Me — Ah, so you don’t want to look just like Maddie.

K — Yes, everyone teases me that I’m just copying her.

Me — So, you’d like to wear something that shows your own taste.

K — Yes, maybe I can put on that shirt with the nice pleat.

Me — That sounds good to me.

When we attend, listen, and reflect, we open the ways of communication and understanding. This brings down the distress in our child, opens their mind to new possibilities, and taps into their creativity. Frequently, this is all that’s needed to resolve a problem. And we learn things about our kids and their lives along the way we would not have learned otherwise.



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