“Early one morning, my son, who was three at the time, was supposed to be getting ready for preschool. It was a busy day, and I had one foot out the door when I noticed he had no pants on. I asked him about it, and he said he wanted his pants from yesterday. I told him those pants were dirty, and I asked him to pick a clean pair of pants so we could go.
“No!” he said, raising his voice and getting visibly upset, “I want my pants from yesterday!”
Trying to keep my cool, thinking I was doing all the “right” things, I got down to his level, looked him in the eye, and calmly said, “I heard you; you want your pants from yesterday. I feel like you aren’t hearing me. I told you they are really dirty. Please pick a clean pair of pants so that we can go.”
This was not the answer he was hoping for. Frustrated, he stomped his foot, looked me square in the eye, and screamed, “NO! I WANT my pants from yesterday. I want them. I WANT them!”
He started crying and became really upset. I was getting angry, frustrated, and annoyed. I was late. He wasn’t listening to me. It wasn’t even 8 a.m., and I was already feeling exhausted.
I admit this was not my proudest parenting moment. Wanting this to end and get out the door as quickly as possible, I turned on my heel, got the dirty pants, and shoved them his way, saying, “Fine. Wear your dirty pants. Put them on now; we need to go.”
Through snotty tears, my son took the pants, reached into the pocket, and pulled out a toy. Then he proceeded to put on a clean pair of pants, wipes his nose, and said, “Let’s go.”
Dumbfounded, I looked at him and said, “Oh, you wanted your pants. You didn’t want to wear your pants. You just wanted them for your toy.”
I wanted the world to swallow me whole. My son was being really clear that he wanted his pants. I was making the assumption that he wanted his pants in order to wear them, and as I was so focused on my own needs, I wasn’t being curious or asking questions as to why he so desperately wanted his pants.
I could see the hurt in his eyes, and I quickly tried to make a repair and apologize to my son. When I asked him what I could do differently next time so this wouldn’t happen again, he looked at me and quietly said, “Mom, you could have just asked me.” (From The Power of Curiosity: How to Have Real Conversations that Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding. (Morgan James 2015)
Parents and children are constantly negotiating every day as they navigate family life. We all experience these negotiations in our domestic lives and how we deal with them can determine how enjoyable our family life Below are some strategies parents and children can use to effectively negotiate to navigate their day to day life effectively and with ease.
1. Be present in the moment with your child. Even though you are in a rush to get out the door, be present to see, hear and understand your child.
2. Listen to be open, non-judging while seeking to understand: Get curious! Everyone has their own unique perspective. A parent cannot assume to understand the perspective of their child or visa versa. Only through being present to really listen to each other in a way that is open and non-judging and asking open questions, can a parent and child begin to gain clarity about each other’s perspective. The mother could have asked what was so special about yesterday’s pants.
3. Test assumptions to deepen understanding. We have learned that our assumptions are wrong 99.999% of the time. If we don’t test them, getting curious and asking open questions we can end up where this mom did, frustrated and assuming one thing when in fact, the need of the child was very different. Once the parent and child can understand each other, they can move forward to explore options and discover ways to expand common ground and seek agreement.
Want to learn more about curiosity and parenting – check out our website at www.instituteofcuriosity.com.
Submitted by mother/daughter team of Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Siggins