Sunday, November 25, 2012

How Would You Feel If….




Over the years, I’ve learned that challenging a parent’s reaction to his or her child’s behavior is a delicate matter. One strategy that has worked for me is what I call the “How would you feel if…” technique. Essentially, the idea is to describe a situation analogous to the child’s but where the parent is in the spotlight. Here’s an example from my book about emotional development (with Dr. Susan Goodwyn), Baby Hearts, dealing with a parent’s angry and humiliating reaction to his son’s fear of a dog.

Max, the neighbor’s overly friendly Labrador retriever, lopes toward 2-year-old Timmy who quickly takes shelter behind his dad’s leg and begins to cry. His dad, Jim, following in the footsteps of generations of dads with sons, says, “Don’t be such a scaredy-cat. He’s not going to hurt you!” Do those words help? No. In fact, research shows that sympathizing with a child’s fears is an important ingredient in the recipe for creating empathy. Perhaps the next scenario might make that dad react differently.

New York City born and bred, Jim decides to take Timmy and the rest of his family to Idaho for an exciting week on a “Dude Ranch.” While his family is still eating breakfast, Jim wanders out to the corral. As he approaches the gate, it suddenly swings open and a large horse comes bounding out of the gate toward him. Jim jumps back quickly, slips, and finds himself in the dirt looking up as the horse races by, leaving him in a cloud of dust. As Jim lies in the dirt, shocked and shaken, the resident cowboy comes sauntering out and drawls, “Hey, city boy, don’t be such a scaredy -cat. He ain’t gonna hurt you!” Jim pulls himself up and stumbles back to the house--humiliated, angry, and feeling he had every right to be frightened given the horse was so large and unknown to him.

We can only hope that parents like Jim make the connection!

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!

Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
and
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program

Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
and
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program
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