I mentioned in this post that we covered quite a bit of ground during our one-hour introduction to Practical Parent Talk with Kathy Salazar. It was too much to put into one single post, so I’ll be spreading it out over a few posts.
Today’s topic: The antidote to the “I can’t” chant.
From Kathy Salazar’s “A Taste of Practical Parent Talk” on Friday March 8, 2013
Have you ever wondered what the correct reaction and response would be when your kids break into the “I can’t” chant? You know, when you ask them to please do something and their two-word response is, “I can’t!”?
I think we’ve all learned by now that the wrong thing to say is, “YES YOU CAN!” Not only is this argumentative, but it’s also not really getting to the heart of what the child is really saying. Usually when a child is saying they can’t do something, it really doesn’t have much to do with their actual capabilities, but it has more to do with them asking this: “Can someone come do this for me?”
When we start looking at “I can’t” more as “do this for me,” it takes on a whole new meaning; that means it’s time for a change in our dialogue and (re)actions.
Kathy’s prescription for your “I can’t” ailment is as follows:
Respond with, “Why don’t you pretend you know how?” By asking the child a question like this, it forces everyone to change gears from reality to pretend; by doing this we are changing the entire focus of the situation. It also puts the problem into a more accessible realm for the child. Through the use of pretend play, the child, not the adult, is in charge. No, this is not saying to put your child in charge of every situation that arises, but by putting them in charge of their own problems, this is empowering rather than enabling. They also might develop an approach to the problem that perhaps an adult would not even have thought of in order to overcome the obstacle, complete the task, etc.
Other ways to phrase this could be:
“Why don’t you act like you can?”
“Why not act like you’ve done 100 times before?”
“Can you pretend like you are teaching it to me?”
Walk away and do not become the child’s audience. When the child is in the throes of the “pretend” actions (that might in fact lead to real solutions, which is the goal here), leave. Let them keep “pretending” and owning the issue without interference from our realistic expectations and restrictions. If you are playing the role of student and they teacher, obviously walking away would not work in this instance, so always remember to behave accordingly depending on your role. If you are playing the role of student, remember to let go into this and allow the child to guide you, even if you feel they might be wandering away rather than toward the solution right away. Small bumps can prevent huge breakdowns later.
After a few minutes, return to the child and assess progress. How is s/he doing? Are they making headway? If so, let them keep at it. If they are completely off-course or frustrated after having started calmly, this is now the time to offer instructions, not impose directions or orders, to guide them closer to solutions.
The most important concept to remember when trying to bust through the “I can’t” chant is to keep the mood light and fun. Happier kids are much more likely to cheerfully complete the task and/or work toward solving their problem. By choosing a more playful attitude the consequence is likely to become more positive and successful.
Here are some first-hand accounts of moms who have already used this approach – with success – since our meeting with Kathy two weeks ago:
“I wanted to share that I must have used ‘pretend you know how’ with my 3-year-old daughter three or four times yesterday and it worked, yay! Thank you to Kathy and A for yesterday! I plan to use all the great advice and share it with my husband!”
– Mom of two daughters, 6-years-old and 4-years-old
“Time change was tough on our family last night (like most of you, I imagine). At 9:07 p.m., my 4-year-old (son) was still not asleep and was being loud. I gave him the option of getting a consequence or ‘pretending ‘ to be asleep. He made a different choice and decided he would ‘pretend’ to be asleep. We rehearsed what pretend sleep would look and sound like. I carried him around the house while he ‘pretended’ to be asleep for about 2 or 3 minutes. Then I put him in him in his bed and let him pretend to be asleep there. That was the last we heard from him. Thank you Kathy.”
– Mom of two, daughter 6-years-old and son 4-years-old
RMT’ers, how have you used “pretend play” with your kids and to your advantage to resolve a difficult situation?