Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ask a Thoughtful Question...

I want to take a moment to point you over to the latest addition on See the Sites: Positive Discipline. I've loved their website and like their approach--empowering our children to become thoughtful persons by including them in resolving challenging situations whenever possible. The focus, much like mine, is to teach through modeling and by inviting our children to come to their own conclusions through intellectual engagement and positive opportunities for personal growth. All we have to do is set the stage.

Here's a great example: last night, both Joe and I were tired and decided that dinner at a restaurant was a good idea. This is always a gamble as Kiddo is sometimes not entirely happy to sit at the table. We brought a few favorite small toys, a book of blank pages to draw in, markers and stickers- our usual 'going out' entertainment. Both Joe and I prefer quieter sit-down places to the 'family-friendly' restaurants, which are noisy and a bit nervewracking, what with children (literally) running around and arguing over broken toys. It might be a little strict for some people's taste, but we feel good manners are important for everyone to have. As is the knowledge that there are other people in the world to consider.

So when Kiddo began to look around the room and declared "Want to run around in here", I knew I was on deck for a positive moment. I could have said "no" and immediately given him my reasons, but it would only serve the purpose of being a hard-nose and shutting him down. Instead, I turned to him and smiled.

"Oh, you want to run around," I repeated in pleasant way. "What do you think would happen if you ran around in here?"

He thought for a minute. "I can bump into someone."

"Yes, you could." I confirmed gently. "Would that be helpful for the people who are eating here or taking the food to people?" Another question, which needed no thinking on--he shook his head no. "You're right. It would be very hard for the people here if kids were running around. Can we find something else for you to do?"

At this point, I noticed what I usually do when we employ questions instead of telling him what we thought: he seemed very content to sit at the table with us because he'd come to the conclusion of what was right for the moment all on his own. I didn't need to tell him "no", because he'd already decided the "no" for himself.

I've also found that asking questions can help plant the seeds of critical thinking. A few days ago, we passed by store display that featured some crazy-looking water guns. "I want that," was Kiddo's remark. Instead of telling him my feelings about guns, I asked him a question.

"Oh, well, what do you think it is?"

"I don't know," he replied.

"What do you think it does?"

"I don't know," again.

"Hmmm...it's probably good to know what things are and what they do before you decide to want it." It might have gone over his head a bit, but a few things happened here: I didn't have to say "no", thus avoiding any potential argument; I invited him to actually think about what it was that he was wanting; and I presented the idea that wanting something can be a choice, which is not necessarily the message my son will be presented with as he goes through life. Advertising capitalizes on the approach that material desires are indeed needs, not wants.

I'm no fool; I know Kiddo will get sucked in with the "GimmeGimmes" at some point or another, but it's never to soon to introduce the idea that one can choose what one desires instead of being blindly led by advertising, trends and packaging. But just by asking these questions, he seemed to get past "I want it" to "Huh, what is it anyway?"

These are my shining parenting moments, which some days are few and far between. I share these stories not to preen, because I am so far from perfect I'd need a map and a few extra lifetimes to get there. Nonetheless, I've noticed that these moments, when I could flex my Parental Authority" muscles, work better to teach empathy, concern for others, and general thoughtfulness because I'm asking him to think. He's flexing his growing intelligence about his world, drawing conclusions based on past experience and learning how to make predictions about what might happen. These are all skills necessary for successfully navigating life, most especially as an adult. When we ask thoughtful questions and give them practice in thinking this way about their actions beforehand, we are (hopefully) building good habits, to consider the consequences or our actions and words before speaking or acting.

And questions work positively in reverse. I am hearing a lot of "I want" statements from Kiddo about everything from food to being held to needing my help with something (right now!). The bossy "I want" tone puts me in such a bad mood some days, because if it goes unchecked, it never ends. So lately, I've been redirecting it with a simple question.

"Oh, do you want to ask a question about that?"

This is usually met with a nice, polite "May I please have..." or "Mama, would you please...", which makes my jaw relax and my shoulders loosen a bit. Instead of feeling like Grumpy, Harried Mama, I feel valued and want to treat him with kindness and respect too. Learning to ask for things pleasantly is another skill which can give him a lifetime of advantage in even the toughest environments, be they school or later on in the workplace.

I could go on and on, but don't just take my word for it. Wander on over to the Positive Discipline site when you've got some time. It's worth it.

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