Monday, November 23, 2009

PD Tool Card: Mirror

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

This week's card is one of my favorite parenting tools! It's easy to do, it's easy to do respectfully, and it is a way for me to remain disentangled from unnecessary battles.

Telling children what you observe is often enough to motivate change.

That's it. All you do is make observations. And then sit back and reap the rewards! Okay, it's not quite that simple, but many times things seem to work out that way.

Most of the time, I make general observations similar to the ones shown on the card:

  • I see your new rocks on the floor.
  • I see your empty lunch plate on the table.
  • I noticed a string cheese wrapper by the computer.

Those are great ways to get kids to handle their responsibilities. It's not bossing, because I'm merely making an observation out loud. I am not telling them what to do because I know they know what to do. So it's easier to handle protests. "But MOM! Don't tell me what to do!" (Boy do they ever hate being bossed.) And I can say "I wasn't telling you what to do. I'm just saying what I see." And sometimes I even feign an exaggerated air of innocence, which often gets smiles, or at least, blank stares. (Hey--I have to amuse myself, too!)

It's also a useful tool for the likes of me, who tends to be overly wordy. I don't need to provide a long, drawn-out explication of the various reasons a plate needs to be taken to the sink, or a laundry list of the last 10 minutes of reminders. And I think they like knowing that I understand that they will and can handle their responsibility. It's a way of demonstrating trust.

Finally, Mirroring is explicitly reality-oriented: "Here is something I see (or hear or god forbid, smell) in reality." A is A; this is how I know it; and I trust that you will do the Right Thing. Metaphysics; Epistemology; Ethics. A parenting-philosophy WIN. :D

I have found ways to use Mirroring in other contexts, too. It's a wonderful tool during conflict, for example. Often, when tempers and voices are rising, I can help circumvent a full-on altercation by making a quick observation.

  • Can I tell you what I saw? I saw that Morgan was holding the toy, put it down to use the bathroom, and when she got out, you had the toy.
  • Wow! I hear some upset voices.
  • It sounds to me like Sean is saying "no!" in baby language.

Both older kids will generally understand from my statement what needs to be done. In the first example, Ryan will understand that pausing (as they term it) playing with a toy to use the bathroom is one of our House Rules. Now maybe he saw that she went to the bathroom; maybe not. It really doesn't matter whether I interrogate him to determine if he grabbed the toy maliciously or mistakenly. I observe; he is reminded of the rule. He knows what to do--give the toy back. I only need to be involved further if he is unwilling to do the right thing.

One thing that's happening more often lately is that Sean is getting in on the fighting action. He's 17 months old now. He has a clear idea of the fact that HE should get to play with the toys around here and that HE needs to be doing what the Big Kids are doing. He's still very little though, and doesn't know how to control his impulses. He's learning appropriate behavior (no grabbing, no hitting, etc.). He's pretty verbal for a guy his age, but he's still unable to communicate his desires and needs in a clear coherent way. So I find myself stepping in to interpret for the older kids.

  • Do you hear him screaming like that? That's his way of telling you he doesn't like it when you do that. (Followed up by telling Sean: "Sean, you can say 'NO!' ")
  • I see Sean is trying to grab that toy. That's his way of asking for a turn. ("Sean, you can say 'My turn, please!' ")
  • I noticed that when you guys are running around, Sean likes to run, too. He wants to be one of the Big Kids. Can you think of a way he can be included?

In those situations, I'm using Mirroring, with a little extra bit of interpretation for the benefit of all. Sean can't really say "My turn, please!" yet, but when I say the words for him, he's learning what he can do once he has those skills. They understand so much more than they can physically replicate at this age. So I am modeling the things I want him to learn because I know that one day, and probably soon, he will be able to say those things. In other words, I'm showing him the tools I want him to acquire when he's ready to.

What are some of the ways in which you use the Mirroring techniques?

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