Guest post by Elizabeth Little
Recipe for Growing Good Humans
In my generation, women were supposed to do it all, do it better than men, and love it. Our anthem was a TV jingle for Enjoli perfume, "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you're a man. 'Cause I'm a woman!" This idea was some bastard child of the women's lib movement but it fit perfectly into the midwestern values my mother taught me; do it all, don't complain.
I was thirty years old, on my second husband, second baby, and second iteration of my career. First husbands are a necessary step. First children are the prize for taking that hero's journey.
My second husband lived in a beautiful house of large windows, open spaces and mature trees but I still needed to bring home the bacon or there would be nothing to fry up in the pan. That house became the home of my large family day care. My preschool was good but was about to become great.
Mrs. Fry came into my life because she needed a school for her grandchildren. She was closing her own successful school to pursue a public speaking career but before going she offered to teach me the secrets of our trade. I leapt at the chance and have been using her simple recipes ever since, not only for teaching, but for human interactions in general.
Recipe: Just Go There!
(particularly good for difficult transitions)
When a parent must a leave a small child with someone else, be it grandparent, Sunday school teacher, babysitter or neighbor, there are often tears and sometimes howling that can go on and on.
It is common for the new custodian to try distracting the child with toys or games or promises that "Mommy will come back." There are offers of treats and strained cheerfulness but ultimately both parties end up frustrated.
The recipe for a quicker transition? JUST GO THERE!
Here is the recipe in action:
Child: "I WANT MY Daddy!"
Adult: "You want your daddy!"
Don't sidestep the issue, show the child you understand!
Adult: "Wow, you really want your daddy!"
By now the child is amazed you listened and understood their position. Usually, the child must cry and scream for hours, and the adult still won't get it.
Child: "Yes, I want daddy."
Adult: "And he is such a good daddy too." (Really Go There!)
Ask a question about Daddy to trigger a positive conversation about him, like:
"What do you like to do with Daddy?"
Child: "He reads me stories."
At this point the child is usually getting bored crouched in the corner and talking to you. They start looking around at the toys or snacks or other children. If not, you can talk about the child's family for as long as they like. You can both delight in
the wonderfulness of the missing guardian.
Sometimes I even ask, "Is Daddy coming back?"
Child: "Yes." (Usually said with a pouty bottom lip and a look
that says, "Duh!")
Adult: "And it will be so great to see him! Shall we draw a
picture for him?"
You have demonstrated respect for the child's feelings and understanding of their situation. The child now believes you are not stupid and perhaps can be trusted. They will go play.
At this point I would usually give a quick call of assurance to the parent who was out in the car crying.
I am sure you can see how useful the Just Go There recipe is. When someone is in distress over a trauma often it makes others feel uncomfortable; as if one should avoid talking about it. Most often the traumatized person just wants to tell you about it. All you have to do is go there with them. You don't need to say "the right thing," or give a pep talk or tell your own similar story.
Neighbor - "My dog just died."
Me - "Oh no!"
Neighbor - "Yeah, I had him for 17 years."
Me - "That must be so hard. What was his name?"
Neighbor - "Duke. He followed me everywhere."
Me - "Oh what a good dog. What kind was he?"
Neighbor - "A Golden Retriever."
Me - "Awww, lovely."
See? So easy. (I had a great dog too! But now is NOT the time to share.)
I remember one instance when a student ran up to me on the playground and said "Max hit me."
"Oh wow," I said, "Did you just want to tell me that?"
"Yep!" said the student as he ran off to play.
I learned not to assume what the other person wanted or needed. I simply used the Just Go There recipe. Most times nothing else was called for.
When - Then is an easy recipe that can be used in a variety of situations. It always turns out well if you sprinkle it with a little cheerful indifference. It helps if you can be (or pretend to be) unattached to the outcome. It was our routine to always clean up the toys before snack. Sometimes a child would come to the table for snack without putting their toys away.
This was a perfect opportunity for When - Then. (Always Make it short, and direct.)
"When your toys are cleaned up then you can have snack."
Say it nicely and say it once.
I would give my attention to the other children and ignore any whining or rolling on the floor. Often the child would put away the toys and come to the snack table. I would say nothing about the incident and offer a snack with attention and kindness. Sometimes a child would not pick up the toys and miss snack. Could this hurt the child? Of course not, lunch was eaten, and teatime was coming. A missing cup of apple sauce would not impact the health of the child, but the experience would. I accepted the child’s choice and simply went on with the routine of the day. There are no "You should have," or "If you had only."
The next When - Then is usually taken very seriously.
When -Then examples:
"When your shoes are on, then we can go to the park."
"When you wash your hands, then you may eat dinner."
"When you don't take out the trash, then I use your allowance to pay the neighbor kid to do it."
"When you can pay for insurance, then you can drive the car."
"When you sell my wedding ring for drugs, then I divorce you."
So clear. So useful.
Chairs Tip: A Great Recipe for Raising Reasonable
The wisdom of Elizabeth Little is a unique blend of practical know-how, irreverent humor and a handle on life’s magic. Her deep Midwest roots and stretch of California living have created a woman who understands everything from “Git ‘er done!” to Zen gardening. Mrs. Little has retired from teaching mathematics and currently resides in her Kavanaugh family’s ancestral home in Hamilton Missouri where she runs a small tea shop and writes.