Have you ever approached a problem with this kind of mindset: "This will never work" or "She will never change" only to discover that you are really right? It doesn't work and she won't change.
Mindset is a huge predictor for outcomes and this is true in our work and professional lives and at home with our partners and children. This might be an already familiar frame of reference for all of you (mindset is totally a 21st century buzzword), but it isn't quite as basic as changing our mindset and changing the outcome- we need strategies to change our mindset and we need to understand why these strategies will change the results.
In our work with preschoolers, we teachers are in a constant inner-dialogue about our mindset. This habit is referred to as reflective practice- we think about how our thoughts, actions, and reactions affect the outcomes we experience with our students. And we think about how to do things differently the next time, if necessary- it's an interactive process that requires flexibility and creative thinking. It's a "change is possible" mindset and a "better way" mindset. As parents, we can apply the same reflective strategies that we use as teachers to retool our approach "in the moment" when we are navigating parenting rough waters.
Here are five questions that you can ask yourself as you guide your child's behavior:
1. What's happening?
This seems elementary, but it's often not. Usually there is more at play than what we see on the surface, but it's easy to rush to reaction and to make statements like, "that's enough" or "stop that" or "share with your sister". One strategy for assessing what's happening is to ask your child, "Is there something you would like me to know?"
2. Why is it happening?
This second question gives a bigger pause to the what to really consider a "root cause". Maybe it's been a really busy day and everyone is a little on edge, maybe your kiddo needs a snack or some alone time (maybe you need a snack or some alone time). Thinking about the root cause generally leads to extending empathy to your child and seeing things from their perspective.
3. How do I feel about it?
Noticing our own reactions is a key factor in any reflective practice. Why are we having such a strong reaction? How will our knee-jerk response affect the outcome? It's like taking a quick look in the mirror and registering facial expression and body language: what messages are we sending and why?
4. Is a change necessary?
Sometimes disappointments or big feelings bubble up and then simply bubble back down and kids just need the time to express themselves and be heard without redirection. And in other situations, you may need to come up with solutions in the moment that help them to find compromise with you, with a sibling, or with a friend. It's kind of a relief to know that a change isn't always necessary, however, and you can incorporate this option into your reflection.
5. What can I/we do differently next time?
This process is really most helpful and effective if we can make it to question 5. Because the reality is, most times we don't- we get flustered and lose our cool or contribute to escalating a dynamic instead of diffusing it. Here's the good news- you can always use the number 5 question, even if you didn't work through 1 to 4.
I realize laying these out as specific and separate questions makes it seem like a really didactic and slow process, this reflective practice. But it actually
works more like a very quick inventory: think of yourself as a detective, with a keen ability to take in the full scope of a scene in just a minute. The more you do it, the easier and more second-nature it becomes! And just like that, you are a more informed and less reactive parent. I guarantee that you will see positive outcomes in your interactions with your kids (you can try this on adults, too!).