Saturday, May 3, 2014

A question for my kids: What would you like to do about that?

Several years ago, when my first son was a toddler, I was at the playground with a few friends and their young children. One of the boys, who was about six years old, ran up to his mom and said something like, "I'm thirsty," or "The sun is in my eyes," or, "I'm hot." His mother's response impressed me.

She did not say, "Go get a drink of water from the water fountain," or, "Put on your hat," or, "Rest in the shade." Instead, she said, "What would you like to do about that?" Her tone was not sarcastic or off-putting. It was matter-of-fact with a nice undercurrent of warmth. Her son thought for half a minute and then figured out a solution to the problem.

When my son was old enough, I started asking him that same question. I want him to be independent and resourceful, and this is a small way that I can help him develop those traits. Here's an example of how I use the question: Yesterday, when we were walking home from school, he told me that he was thirsty. When I asked, "What would you like to do about that?" he remembered that he had a bottle in his backpack with water in it left over from lunch. The problem was solved, and more importantly I didn't have to solve it for him.

Of course, this question isn't appropriate for every situation. Sometimes my son needs me to give him an immediate solution (e.g. somebody's bleeding), sometimes I don't allow him complete autonomy (e.g. he's hungry, but he can't have a snack an hour before dinner), and sometimes he just needs a hug and a kiss. But there are times when this approach is effective, and it encourages him to figure out how to solve the problem himself.

Even if my son still needs my help with the problem, the question allows him to think about his options and what assistance he needs. It helps him to be more of a self-advocate and less of a whiner. And when the problem can't be solved immediately, my question helps him to process the situation and understand that I am not a magician who can teleport him home immediately or produce a treat out of thin air or make Daddy come back from work sooner.


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  2. I totally agree! I sometimes add some validation too (especially if we can't solve the problem at the moment), like, "yeah, I bet you are thirsty! I'm thirsty too!" and/or "it sure has been a long time since we drank!" and I can make if fun with something like "wouldn't it be nice if I had a big giant glass of water in my hand right now!"

    1. Thanks for your comment, Wendy. Yes, I've found that validation is really important too.