A little magic for the tough times
While there is no magic bullet cure for ADHD or autism (you know that’s right!), there is one phrase you can say to your child that almost always turns around an unwanted behavior.
Is your child frustrated? Use this phrase.
Is your child down or sad? Use this phrase.
Is your child angry? Use this phrase.
Is your child anxious? Use this phrase.
Is your child struggling with homework? Use this phrase.
“How can I help you?”
Yep. That’s it. That’s the magic. It seems simple and intuitive but we never think about it in the middle of the struggles. Saying, “How can I help you?” acknowledges and validates your child’s feelings in that moment. Validation and empathy are, by far, the most powerful parenting tools, but we don’t use them enough.
This magic phrase shows that you believe your child is struggling. It also shows your child that you care about their struggle and what they are going through. And it subtlety conveys that you are there for them (a great message for when your kids are teens and you want them to talk to you). During a homework struggle, instead of saying, “Just get it done already. I don’t understand why you can’t just get it done…” say, “How can I help you?”
Take a minute to imagine each scenario playing out and the resulting conversation for each…
See! This phrase can be magic. If your child is having an angry outburst, you could say, “Get over it and act your age.” Or, you could say, “How can I help you?” We all know the reactions to each would be far, far different. The first points out their weaknesses and will only add fuel to the building fire. The later conveys caring and compassion and is likely to soften their anger.
Will the magic phrase work all the time? No, of course not. The struggle is real. Will the magic phrase solve the underlying problem (having to do homework or the reason they got angry)? Nope. That problem is still there. But now, you have calmed the tone of your interaction so you can address that underlying issue.
Now, don’t get upset if your child’s answer to “How can I help you?” is not productive. They might say, “You can’t,” or say, “By leaving me alone,” or any number of less than ideal answers. The point isn’t necessarily to engage in conversation about their problem, although that would be amazing. The point, rather, is to validate their feelings, diffuse the emotional turmoil, and show your child that you are in their corner. The collaborative conversation to help solve their problem can come later, when everyone is good and calm. If your child says you can help by leaving them alone, then leave them alone for a bit (unless, of course, they’re not safe alone). We all need alone time sometimes. Truthfully, sometimes we parents overcomplicate things and leaving them alone is exactly what they need.
Ask how you can help and then listen, truly listen to your child’s needs. The result could be magical.