I was standing beside our van in the busy parking lot at Superstore, trying to get all of my kids settled so we could drive home (during rush hour) and try to throw supper on the table as fast as possible, but one of my darling children was LOSING IT.
The entire situation was bad enough on it’s own, and the last thing I needed was somebody wailing because the item I’d promised to buy at Superstore was not in stock. We’d spent far too much time searching for it, and I’d promised numerous times to get it the next time we went shopping, but nothing was helping, and the wailing continued.
At this point, I was starting to lose it, too, because the thoughts running through my mind went something like this:
“This is ridiculous. Have we raised our kids to be so materialistic and entitled that they can’t even handle waiting a few more days to get what they want??!! MY CHILD SHOULD NOT BE CRYING LIKE THAT OVER SUCH A SMALL THING!!!!!”
But exactly at that moment, something I’d been reading popped into my head.
In her book Parenting Without Power Struggles, Susan Stiffelman suggests a powerful technique for understanding your child’s emotions: Whenever you think your child should not do something they are, flip it in your mind and force yourself to come up with three reasons why they SHOULD do whatever you think they should not.
When I first read that suggestion, I thought it was completely terrible. How could that possibly help? And if I think my kids shouldn’t do something, then of course they shouldn’t!!!
But in that moment in the Superstore parking, thinking my kid shouldn’t be wailing, the question popped into my head: “Why SHOULD my child be freaking out right now?”
It is hard to think that way, because it goes against everything in my head to give reasons in favour of annoying, out of control behavior. But I did it anyway, and it took about two seconds to realize that it would be disappointing to think you were going to get a fun, new item, and then not get it after all. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that even I was feeling a little disappointed about it!
So I had a good start, but I needed two more reasons! I thought some more, and realized that it had been a long, overstimulating afternoon, and everyone was feeling tired and ready to go home. On top of that, we were all sick with colds. For a kid, those are enough reasons to lead to a Superstore breakdown.
And just like that, I felt compassion instead of annoyance and frustration. The very moment I started to give my child a few comforting words to let her know I understood, the crying stopped, peace was restored, and we headed for home.
All it took was some assurance from me that she was heard and understood, and the problem disappeared. It was shockingly magical.
A few days later, I was listening to a podcast by Janet Lansbury about tantrums and preschoolers, and she shared this tidbit of wisdom: “It’s only your problem if you feel you need to fix it.”
She shared how so often, preschoolers can explode for no reason, but we take on all those emotions, and think we need to do something to fix it. Our child is a Problem, and we need to do something.
But she talked about how emotions aren’t really a problem to be fixed – they just are there, they need to get out, and the best thing we can do is make space for them, acknowledge them, and remove ourselves from being so personally involved. We don’t need to “fix” our children or their problem. We just need to provide a calm, safe space, and usually things will dissolve on their own, once the child has let off some steam.
When we stop feeling like we need to fix the problem, we don’t feel so helpless and frustrated anymore. We don’t have an annoying, impossible situation to act on, we are simply observing our child dealing with some tough stuff. We can be there for them, but we don’t actually need to DO anything.
You guys, this is true not just for preschoolers, but for middle schoolers, teenagers, adults, EVERYONE. I’ve been experimenting, and I’m fascinated with the results. I even feel it working in me! When sad or angry feelings rise up in me, I try to switch myself from thinking I need to fix something, and instead just observe it. I watch it, write about it if I have to, pray about it, but mostly I just let it be. And then often it just goes away. I can’t believe how often seeing it, naming it, giving it room and just allowing it to be sad or hard can make it disappear.
THIS IS SO HARD! It’s hard to let it be! And sometimes there truly are actions that need to be taken, but it’s much easier to see those actions after the steam is let out.
Most of the time, my kids don’t need much help from me. It really isn’t my problem to fix. I make space for their strong emotions, I try to keep my mouth shut instead of giving advice, pray like crazy quietly in my head, let them feel heard, rub their back while they cry, and then they work it out. (*See last week’s post about the power of a good cry!)
It’s really amazing to see how often the problem I thought needed fixing is actually just some pain or emotion needing to get out. It’s harder and simpler – harder to go into the painful places without jumping to a solution, and simpler because it’s returning to the basic desire in all of us: to be seen and heard and loved unconditionally.
When I look at it that way, it’s an opportunity to embrace, instead of a problem to be fixed.
BONUS: This expression keeps popping into my head in all kinds of situations far beyond parenting. Anytime a frustrating situation comes up, and I start to invest energy and emotions into a problem I don’t have any control over, I keep thinking, “It’s only my problem if I think I need to fix it!”
It’s amazing what burdens disappear the second I realize it’s not my problem to fix. Give it a try – I’d love to hear if it helps you to release some loads you don’t need to carry!
2 thoughts on “Parenting Truth #3: It’s only your problem if you think you need to fix it.”
So good Kendra! I witnessed this principle in action today! And it wasn’t me; I’m usually the one jumping in trying to “fix the problem “🤣
Oh, it’s SO EASY to jump into fix it mode!!! But it’s fascinating to watch how kids react without fix it mode – it’s like the anger melts away! It’s cool that you could see it happening!