As a mother of twin four-year-old girls, I often encounter behaviors in my children that remind me of our emotional and intellectual complexity. It is because of this complexity we often find ourselves in conflicts and struggles.
One daughter insists on whining and crying when she is trying to get her way. Running out of approaches that work to get her to stop this bad habit, I recently decided to smile whole-heartedly at her while she was in full manipulation mode. The funny thing about this is that she couldn’t resist smiling back at me. The moment her smile began to spread across her face, she fought it. She opened her mouth so her lips wouldn’t spread, bit on her lips so her teeth wouldn’t show, and turned her face away, and closed her eyes so she couldn’t see me smiling.
By then, she was already kind of giggling because she saw that she was no longer capable of keeping herself serious enough to continue her pretend crisis. It was the most fascinating interaction to have with a child because we were not speaking and yet there was so much communication being exchanged through gestures, facial expressions, and body language.
This approach continues to work very well with her and actually is very similar to a method used in Taoist meditation techniques. According to 1st Holistic, “Taoist masters suggest that when you first begin to practice meditation, you will find that your mind is very uncooperative. That’s your ego, or ’emotional mind’, fighting against its own extinction by the higher forces of spiritual awareness.”
When she fights the urge to return the smile, therefore, it is actually her ego that prevents her from letting go of her emotional turmoil. When I try to lighten her mood, it is a reminder of higher forces of spiritual enlightenment. I am a witness to the struggle within her that is playing out physically, before my eyes, as a result of my probing, heart-felt smile.
On a separate occasion, her twin sister was carrying on in a similar way with me. However, this exchange was more vocal. My daughter stated that she wanted to play downstairs, and I insisted that we were leaving. She repeated, slightly upset, “What? I want to go back downstairs.” At this point in the conversation, an escalating struggle seemed imminent. Instead, I turned to her and said, “Oh! You really want to go back downstairs.” Then she smiled and said, “Yes!”
Although going back downstairs was her wish, I explained, it was necessary to get groceries in preparation for dinner. I opened the refrigerator door to show her how empty it was inside and asked her if she would be my helper. She responded excitedly, “I want to carry the list!” Crisis averted.
This interaction is slightly different from the first; in the preceding case, a struggle existed because of the gap between my daughter’s plans for the day and my own. My child was interested in having fun and playing, while I was trying to handle my responsibilities as efficiently as possible. Authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish suggest some alternatives to saying “no” when communicating with children in “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.” They state, “Sometimes resistance is lessened when someone understands how you feel.”
When I expressed that my daughter had her own wishes and I accepted her feelings with regard to wanting to play, I helped her to feel autonomous and understood. I also gave her information. She was not aware of the lack of food and understood the importance of having supplies to make dinner.
The techniques I have discussed have been so effective for our family that even my children use them on me, and with great success. While on a family outing, my husband and I were admittedly arguing in the car, while the girls were patiently waiting to be removed from their car seats. Once their patience wore low, one of them began to comment on our discussion. She first confirmed her acceptance of our feelings. She said, “Guys, you sound frustrated.” Once this was stated the other began to comment, “Yeah, don’t be mad. You should be happy. Look at me. I’m smiling!”
My husband and I turned to find them both giggling through their wide exaggerated smiles. Once my husband and I had our attention on their smiling faces and the sound of their silly laughter, our egos had subsided. The urgency of our conversation and the frustration of our conflict had disappeared.
Although conflict is problematic, it is unavoidable. It is a part of life and we should learn and grown from it. I have learned that with some finesse, complex problems can have simple solutions.