Alice Kaltman, LCSW, founder of Family Matters NY shares a quick tidbit related to parenting and family life. We know you’re pressed for time, so here is a nugget of simple, and hopefully helpful advice (or reassurance!).
How many times have you used the phrase “use your words” to your kid when they’re in a snitty mood? Usually backfires, right? Sometimes asking for words from a kid is like saying, ‘you need to calm down’ to your spouse after you’ve stepped on his or her big toe. In other words: potentially infuriating and shortsighted.
Parents ask for words when there are none; when words aren’t possible or even needed. When words are too tall an order. When words are beside the point. And parents talk too much; explaining, debating, inquiring, teaching, cajoling, lecturing, questioning when a short answer, or non-verbal action is really what’s called for.
We’ve all been there, done that. Kids with good language skills dupe us, embroiled us in circular arguments that rarely lead to resolution. Most often these tete-a-tetes lead to tantrums or tears. Socio-emotional skill acquisition is a separate, spiky beast from language mastery. All kids have their own uneven, unpredictable trajectories. That three-year-old with the vocabulary of a six-year-old is still emotionally a three-year-old. So don’t be fooled.
And then there are the non-talkers, little ones taking their own sweet time with language altogether. Kids who are making physical strides aren’t working on verbal skills at the same time and visa versa. So please don’t push these kids to talk. Don’t bombard them with questions. Remember, they’re busy honing other important skills. Eventually it all evens out.
In other words; silence is, more often than not, golden when tempers are hot. Here are some quiet alternatives for those times when you’re being a bit too verbal, and/or your kid is in a particularly thorny state.
- Hugs and Chilling out. A loving squeeze is always great if your kid is in a state to receive one. If so, while embracing, suggest some deep breathing, and do it along with them. Once the sniffles have subsided, don’t go right to, “so can you tell daddy/mommy what’s bothering you?” Instead, suggest some chilling out. If you can, create a spot in your home specifically for quiet time, preferably in a common area, where your kid has visual access to you. (See my previous article for tips on creating a chill-out space) There will be conscious and unconscious reflecting going on during this time, for everyone. This will come in handy later, when your little one is well rested and centered, when talking makes more sense.
- Shake, rattle and roll. For some kids, movement really helps. If they’re not big on talking, ask them to ‘dance out their feelings’ and watch intently. Watching may be enough, but some kids like it when parents provide a narrative. If your kid is jumping up and shaking his or her fists, say something like, “Wow, you do an amazing angry dance. You are the maddest, fiercest dancer I have ever seen!” Feel free to join in. Attempt to shift the movement towards something calmer, from shakes and fists to sways and gently flapping arms. If you’re not a great mover, you will at least provide a valuable distraction, getting your kid to laugh at how silly you look.
- Picasso-it. Some kids find self-expression with non-toxic, washable paints/pens/markers and big, empty surfaces they can splash, scratch and slash away at. Other visually creative types are better in three dimensions, and can say much with Play doh, clay, or other gooey, knead-able stuff. Verbal feedback from mom or dad might help, as in, ” I see a bit of mad here in this red section. Very interesting. I wonder what that’s about.” And once again, if possible join in and create your own non-masterpiece.
Regardless of which approach you use, wait until later, when your kid is well fed and well rested, and when you yourself have taken some quiet time to bring up earlier troubling moments. But even then, don’t force the issue. It’s possible by working it out non-verbally your kid has already gotten past the incident. In many situations it will be important to talk with your kid about how to make things go better in the future, when there is no choice but for everybody to use their words. But remember, especially when they’re young, it’s okay to let the words go, to even say, “Okay sweetie. This time, let’s not use our words.”
Alice Kaltman, L.C.S.W. has been working with parents and kids since 1988. In 2006, she co-founded Family Matters NY, a parenting coaching service for Brooklyn and Manhattan families, providing support through workshops, referrals, and private sessions. Alice lives in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn with her daughter and husband. Aside from her articles for ACGIB, Alice’s thoughts on parenting can be found at Babble.com and on the Family Matters NY website. She also writes novels for kids and short stories for adults. You can follow her on Twitter @AliceKaltman or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org