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Cooperation Counts

  • Traps

    Illusion of road going in two directions

    Image Credit: Thomas Lieser

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    It’s a known fact that kids can be masters at keeping adults off guard by setting traps.



    It’s easy to respond to these completely non-pleasant scenes by telling the kids to stop it. Unfortunately, that does not work.
    In the heat of any miserable moment, if there is any adult response at all, consider the following. At least these phrases are neutral, and not as likely to fuel adult or kid ‘fires’.
    “Thanks for letting me know that’s what you’re thinking (or feeling) right now.” “I’ll wait.” “I hear you.” “This isn’t working out for me. I’m going to take a quick break.” “I’m not sure what to say right now, but I’ll get back to you.”


    It was an ordinary Saturday morning and The Kaleb Kids including Stacy- age 12 months, Paul- age 8, and Brian-age13 were at the store with their Mom to do the weekly Big Shopping. Everything was going beautifully until suddenly ‘it’
    happened. Brian was ‘at that age’ when irritability could set in fast, and suddenly it did! When he was upset he got belligerent, openly refusing to cooperate with anything, and usually threw in what his worried Mom called ‘locker room’ talk. Use your imagination!
    So- there they were in the cereal aisle. Brian wanted a specific kind, and it wasn’t on the shopping list. No one else liked it, and there was literally no money to spare this week- which had already been discussed clearly.
    Trouble ensued. Mom consciously kept her cool even though she was running on hot. She reminded everyone that there was no wiggle room on the shopping list for extra requests. Brian would have none of it, and immediately everyone in Aisle 7 along with many others knew it! Parents with younger kids scattered as the now Rated R scene in the cereal aisle escalated dramatically.
    The Kaleb Kids all knew that Mom reminded them frequently in ordinary conversation that she was not going to argue with anyone. She said that there are enough wars in the world and she didn’t need them in her own family so she always said, “I’m not going to argue with anybody because that only gets everyone more emotional’. So until the specific Kaleb kid had settled down she always just said over and over as soothingly as she could, “I hear you.” “I know it’s hard.” “I’ll wait.” She was a big believer in respecting the fact that kids of all ages need to have their emotions, and they show them in various ways and lengths of time.
    Today was just the same, but when she realized that Aisle 7 now resembled a ‘locker room’, she said to the other kids,” Get ready. We might need to take a break outside. If we do, please stay with me. We can just leave the cart. We’ll come back another time, and try again.” If this were to happen, she would certainly shower the cooperators with praise for their courageous choice.
    There could be multiple outcomes to this all too familiar scene including: Taking the baby and Paul to another close by location and checking back, just waiting, moving to the end of the aisle while checking back in-and out- with Brian, or sadly leaving the cart even though the longed for popsicles would melt, but the important thing is that Mom had a respectful, clear plan in place when there was an Escalation, and she was ready to follow through calmly even though she was boiling inside. She avoided like the plague phrases that even resembled “Stop it ! Why are you acting like this? We already discussed this so why are you acting up?” Mom drew the line!
    There will always be various scenes when kids of all ages have Big emotions, but it is important for adults to find ways to avoid the traps because it is useless to try to problem-solve when anyone is upset. Waiting until everyone is calm, moving on, and re-connecting with each other are the top priorities, and adults are the only ones who can make that happen. No pressure!

    Contact Jean for consultation options at: jeanhamburg@comcast.net __1-877-813-0004

    Cooperation Counts (sm) is a service of Jean Hamburg, LICSW

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