My young daughter was bolting in my direction. I could tell, even from 15 feet away, that she was very agitated. She clearly had something on her mind and it was equally clear that I was gonna to hear about it. She stopped abruptly in front of me and began her angry download.
“That boy is such a jerk. We were playing chess and he was making up rules and telling me I was wrong and saying all kinds of stupid things. I’d move my piece and he’d say it was a dumb move and that I didn’t know how to play and then he’d just knock a piece over and say he won. He was just so STUPID! He didn’t know ANY of the rules of chess. He just acted like he did. It made me so mad!”
She was a whirling swirling cloud of angry. And while her frustration was reasonable, her level of anger was not. I knew she could stew (and spew) for a very long time if I didn’t help her calm down and find her center again. So, summoning my small reserve of Yoda-like wisdom. . .the first thing I did was say that I had something very powerful to tell her. That got her attention and she at least hit the pause button on her download. Since we were in a very public place, I also said that she would need to come and sit on my lap because I was going to tell her something not only powerful, but also private, something I didn’t want heard by others. It was going to be for her ears only.
This move turned out to provide an unexpected bonus. While sitting quietly on my lap, I mindlessly began to gently rub her back while I started to speak softly. Not only did the tactile input help to distract her and lessen her intensity, but she had to become calm and quiet to hear my almost whispering voice.
Have you ever been fishing? I knew she had not only been fishing, but loved it. Well, while you’re on top of the water watching the bobber, let me tell you what’s going on down below. I went on to explain that the fish see the bait slowing sinking downward through the water. They edge closer to check it out. The smell from the bait begins to waft over them. Eventually, instinct just kicks in. The smell. The hunger. A little twitch of the bait and suddenly, the fish has to hit on it. There’s not a lot of thought there. They are hungry. The bait is there. They hit. They don’t really even have a choice.
We, on the other hand, have a power that the fish does not.
When that little boy said that you didn’t know how to play chess, he was, in essence, throwing a piece of bait out there. You know full and well that you can play chess. You’ve had lessons. You’ve studied. You’ve competed and sometimes even won. Just because he said it, didn’t make it true. What he was doing was just throwing a piece of bait at you, pretty cheap bait at that. And just like a fisherman watching the bobber, he was really hoping you’d hit on it.
But here’s the part that gives you power.
You. . .are not a fish.
You have a power that the fish does not. You can recognize that goofy comment for the bait that it is. You can see that little boy throw that bait out there, you can watch it land in the water, you can even see him waiting, hoping you’ll hit on it. And then—here’s the cool part—you can just let it float on by. You don’t have to hit on it, because you are not a fish.
Our highly wired kids can really struggle with reactionary comments. All they know is the moment. They are frustrated. And when they become frustrated, their ability to sort reasonably through their alternative responses for one well-suited to the moment goes right out the window. Typically, they just lash out. They feel someone has taken control of the situation, someone else has the power. But with a little bit of practice (enter the fun of role playing yet again) they can take the power back with the wonderful device of mentally watching the bait float by.
Share this conversation with your child. Empower them with the gift of chosen silence. Help them to build up their arsenal of responses to frustration. And then the next time someone at work makes one of those ridiculously incendiary comments just to get a rise out of you, remember, you too. . .are not a fish. 🙂