At times do you wish you’d just step in and “help a parent?”
What holds me back is the underlying thought that they might not appreciate my help, and I would make the situation worse.
Tantrum before the flight
As I hit the airport in Honolulu, I was eager to get to my gate and log on to the email so I could catch up on notes before my all-night flight back to the mainland. (I laugh- all night now is 6 hours in the dark when it used to be those all night flights from Asia, which were really long trips. Really. Long.)
At the gate area, there is a mother with her two-year-old who was having a tantrum. She was trying to reason with her daughter. The toddler was screeching and the mother was standing there mortified. I wanted to tell her my words of wisdom from working with many young kids:
You have to get down to her level, face to face. Put your body between her and us the general public and say in a quiet but controlled voice, “Tell me what you need”. Then repeat this again and again if necessary.
Parents often cloud the issue by asking too many questions or talking too long themselves. A two-year-old needs to hear five or six words, no more. Kids often only understand 1/2 of what we say so we need to keep it short. I wish I had tried to help that Mom.
Parents often over-explain!
On another airplane trip, I overheard a dad explaining and explaining things to his kids. It sounds counterintuitive: doesn’t your child deserve an explanation about why you’re saying they can’t have another ice cream before the flight? I knew the explanations were going right over their heads and distract from the matter at hand. I wish I had explained to the Dad how he could phrase his conversation. I’d like to tell him this.
You must always phrase it in the positive. If you say “no you can’t have another ice cream before the flight” . . . the child hears “ice cream before the flight.” Always phrase it with the results you want, “We eat apples or popcorn before flights”. This will take the focus off the ice cream. With this positive phrase, your child gets a choice so she is more open to making a choice. This is much better than just “no” to ice cream.
When a parent says no, this does not give the child any power. But giving them the choice of an apple or popcorn gives her some power.
Once at an airport, I ran into a family that was over-compensating for a divorce.
Some parents ‘entitle’ children because of a divorce. The parents feel guilty. They try to spare the child of any ill feelings whatsoever. This is not a great combination on a flight especially if you are the one sharing a row with this family. Again a balanced life is vital. Balanced means highs and lows, it means feeling happy and sad. Parents can’t give a child a one-sided life because it robs them of being able to thrive and have resilience. All kids need to have the ability to bounce back. As parents, we need to let them feel the uncomfortableness of waiting on the tarmac as the plane waits for a new flight plan. Parents don’t have to spend all their energy to entertain the child while the aircraft is still on the ground. As parents, we need to let the child feel all these emotions when they are young so they build up the skills they need.
Note to Parents:
You are the guardians for your children’s innate emotional well-being.
I always describe the feeling parents and teachers have about wanting the best for their children as “passionate”. If we wish to build on the emotional feelings of love we have for our children, we need to think of how we want them to live most successfully the rest of their lives.