8. How much is too much?

There have been several warnings in this course about asking too many questions and trying to dig too deep. Getting the right balance is tricky. See this as a sort of continuum where not saying anything or not getting involved at all is on one side and overbearingly being controlling or analyzing is on the other side.

Where are you on that upbringing continuum? Let me give some personal examples. I have never been the type that forces myself on other people. For example, with my children and now my grandchildren, I might sit on the floor near that pile of Legos and start fiddling with them. The kids would be curious and choose to come to me. I rarely went on the offense and said, “Let’s play with Legos.” I would also often let the kids choose between two or three alternatives.

I am not saying that this is the best approach; I am just saying this is how I am as a person. I enjoy empowering others, encouraging others, letting others explain their ideas, and giving others space to explore. Sure, I like to be in the center of things – but I am more of the introvert type and have to recognize that and appreciate that part of me. On stage, I turn into a whole other type of human, but that’s another story. I can be shy with other people and kids and grandkids, I like to provide an accepting atmosphere and see if they want to come to me.

You may be different from me and approach your kids or grandkids differently than me and be more on the offensive. I am just saying that the two extremes on this continuum are poorer strategies than having a good sense of balance. Too little or too much are neither the best ways to go about building relationships and trust.

Earlier I mentioned the important principle of “specific in- specific out”. This applies especially to the art of follow-up. So here’s a story to explain: I am teaching a group of pre-school teachers about the importance of verbalizing appreciation and the connection between behavior and the need to encourage values such as politeness and respect.

I teach teachers to focus on behavior instead of generalizations about being kind or polite or a good friend. When a child opens a door for you, I give the example that you tell them how much you appreciate that. “Thanks for opening the door for me” – and connect to a value word – “It’s very polite of you to open the door for me.” The key is linking behavior with values.

One of the pre-school teachers in the group says, “Well, John, there is a third thing to do. When you see the child the next day, say something like, “Last night when I got home, I was thinking about how polite you were yesterday when you opened the door for me.” Of course, I thought. It’s a good idea to remind, confirm and affirm the child’s positive act of kindness and politeness.

That is a good example of a follow-up, and I have often shared that story that adds an important element to my message.

The three steps:

  1. Thank the other person and show appreciation for what they did or are doing
  2. Link the behavior to a value-laden word.
  3. Later remind them of what they did, how it affected you, and the value-laden word.

It is often a good idea to end a conversation with a query about their next step whenever possible. Try to end on a specific and not a generalization.

You’ve been asking about their game and how it went. You’ve asked a reflective question such as how were you able to make that important pass to a teammate. You could end by asking about one thing they could practice more often that might lead to still more assists. 

“Wow, nice how you got Aunt Lizy to smile. Nice to see how your way of talking to her helped her relax and feel good. Anybody else you can think of whom you’d like to get smiling?” Maybe they have an answer, maybe not, but you get them thinking of other possibilities to use their “get other people to smile” skill.

Thanks for getting your brothers to do something else other than fighting. You seem to have a knack for finding practical solutions. Any suggestions for something more we need to do to have a more pleasant atmosphere at home?”  

Yes, I know. Easier said than done. Or you may think I sound like up in the clouds academic. I get it. Reality does not always lend itself to simple solutions.

But as an academic, I say – yes, but think of the principle behind this!

Short follow-ups give a message you seriously care about what’s going on and what future possibilities could be.

A few final words of advice.

Be always on the lookout for:

Strengths – personal characteristics that help a person succeed

Skills – abilities that help a person solve a problem and move forward, sometimes intuitive and sometimes gained through practice

Talents – A talent can be obvious and “traditional,” such as musicality, athletic ability, social competence, and short-term memory skills that help with schooling. A traditional talent that often is recognized at school and at home. However, a talent can also be non-traditional, like getting people to relax or smile, connecting people, or finding information or people who can help. There are no grades for “getting other people to feel welcomed or comfortable.” Hunt for both sorts of talents, traditional and non-traditional.

Values – Values are related to statements of purpose, beliefs, and strong opinions that can drive a person’s behavior. 

Constructive behavior – acts of cooperation, kindness, politeness, or empathy that you appreciate and can acknowledge

Passion – a deep interest in a subject, activity, event, or the like which indicates something they enjoy, want to know more about, or spend more time on

Flow – when a person loses him or herself in an activity, time flies by which almost always leads to a feeling of satisfaction.

Eureka moments – Yes, look for those Eureka moments when new insights, thoughts, and plans take form. You will find it not only by what others say but also by how they react with wider eyes, often looking up and a facial expression of pleasure. 

A word about praise: We often praise our children for their achievements. Let me suggest you praise them for their effort and show appreciation for their thoughts and thoughtfulness. You show appreciation for them as a person in that way, not just their achievements or successes.

Be observant. Express your sense of wonder or appreciation. Acknowledge and…. now and then ask a question to encourage reflection.

You will be rewarded with a greater sense of connection, trust, and cooperation. Your daughter or son will be rewarded with the ability to ask themselves crucial thought questions that will help them deal with life’s various array of choices and steps forward.

Here’s hoping the ideas in this course lead to more Eureka Moments for you as a parent and help even the people around you to make new discoveries about themselves, their thinking, and their behavior.

Homework: Like any good teacher or mentor, I ask you to summarize your three most important learnings from this course. Share them with others. 

Have many Happy Eureka Moments in your parenting.