We are visiting my in-laws in Mexico. There are many different cups for my children to drink juice and water from, but there are two that have built in straws. I have three children, and they all love these straw-cups. We've had a lot of big feelings about the straw-cups, and who gets to use them.
This morning, I sat at the breakfast table with one child on either side of me and the third in my lap. They were eating empanadas prepared by their tía and there was a big jug of lemonade on the table. Of course, the one who did not get a straw-cup proceeded to have some big feelings about how no other cup would do. Sisters were not down for sharing, though one offered that after she finished her lemonade, the straw-cup-less sister could have her cup.
I had a couple choices: I could respond with dear child, stop crying. It's a cup we're talking about. Either way, you get the lemonade. Calm down, it's not ok to make sure a scene when your auntie just made you a delicious breakfast. That is what was running through my head, spurred by my desire that my children express gratitude for this family member helping us with breakfast. I was feeling embarrassed that my children couldn't just hold it together about a cup, for goodness sake.
Do you see how my own feelings were already jumping all over my response to my little girl, tears running down her face about the straw-cup? So I took a deep breath. I held my hand over my heart and sang to myself mama said mama said, there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this my mama said . I opened my eyes, and my child was still very very upset.
And I was calm enough to reach for a relationship based parenting tool- The Three Yeses. I asked her three questions to which she could answer yes. In this moment, I asked... So you really love that straw-cup? You're a little mad your sisters are using both straw-cups? The straw cup is your favorite?
Yes, yes, and yes.
This is my mom's approach- you see, I have the blessing/curse of being the daughter of deeply experience educator and parenting guru Dr. Robin Hauge- and we will be LIVE sharing our approach to managing big feelings on Thursday, January 23 at 6pm PST. Grab your spot now before it fills up!
She quieted. My yes-questions did not fix the situation: she still didn't have the cup she wanted. But they did help her feel felt and understood. She sat quietly on my lap. She waited. She was definitely sad, but she wasn't yelling, hitting, or otherwise making a scene. Eventually, sister finished her lemonade and the child on my lap got the straw cup.
I want to note a couple of things: one, it took me calming myself down before I could ask three questions to the child from her perspective. Then, the three yeses didn't fix the situation, nor were they supposed to remedy the child's ailment. This tool is about the relationship: its about nourishing the child as a whole, and her feelings so that she may learn and practice navigating a range of emotions.
After all, that's what is going to happen to her in life, right? Sometimes she will get the things she wants and sometimes she won't. Something she will work hard for something and it still won't turn out how she wished, and other times there might not be anyone willing to give up their stuff or stake in things to offer it to her. So this window of development- this short time in which I have her under my care- is a chance for me to help her learn to deal with disappointment, frustration, and anger.
I talked to the mom of a teenage girl after we finished with the straw-cup fiasco, and she recounted how sullen her fourteen year old had been on a recent family trip to the snow. The trip was sponsored by the grandparents, and much like how I was embarrassed about my child's upset about the straw-cup, through this mom's words I heard an undercurrent of embarrassment, of desire for the girl to thank her grandparents, to participate kindly and sweetly in the family adventure.
In this situation too, though, all of our desire that our teen be a certain way tends to fall flat or worse, result in eruption. This young woman sighed a lot of big sighs, threw an awful lot of aggressive looks, refused to give up her phone and didn't smile once when the family went out for dinner.
The three yeses is apt here, too. Like the little one, this teenager needs to feel felt and understood. Do you ever remember being in your teens and knowing without a doubt that your parents definitely didn't understand?!?! We're going to bet that's how this young woman felt- like her family was incapable of understanding. Humans need to feel felt and understood in order to grow and learn. Teenagers are in a life stage where they are pulling away from their parents in order to turn towards their friends, and it's painful for all involved.
So what might have been The Three Yeses for this young woman? Perhaps you really wish your friends were here? You are counting the days to go home? You think this <ostensibly darling, but don't say that> cabin in the snowy mountains is boring?
The Three Yeses don't fix anything: the child didn't get the cup and the teen doesn't get to leave the family vacation. Rather, they foster a felt sense of togetherness. They give us a frame for communicating to our young people... we are here with you, and we love you however you are. What we want to communicate to our children and young people is that no matter what, we love them and that all kinds of feelings are OK. Once that is established, it is then that together the parent and the child or teen can work on dealing with tricky feelings and moving through the towards joy.
Join us on Thursday, Jan 23 at 6pm PST over Zoom for conversation about The Three Yeses and how joining your kid's upset supports positive emotional development, relationship building, and the holy grail... cooperation! Sign up by clicking here!