Black belt Theresa Byrne meets a lot of frustrated parents. Here are a couple of tips she’s shared with them.
It happens every day in my work. A parent walks in and says, “My child can’t X. And I’m not sure what to do.” They have that ‘throw my hands up in the air’ look that says they want help.
X can be so many things: sit still, tie his or her shoes, keep their thoughts in their head, be quiet, focus, roller-skate, learn right from left, stop throwing temper tantrums, throw a ball, run, behave at school, speak up at school, finish their homework, stop the bully from hurting him or her…the list is as endless as the kids we teach. Obviously some are much more serious, like bullying, but I’ll discuss that in a later article.
Invariably the parents are concerned, worried, frustrated or impatient that their child hadn’t ‘gotten it’ yet, whatever ‘it’ is. And as their martial arts instructor, they turn to me for help.
The ironic part is this: When you were a kid, Mr. or Mrs. Parent, were you able to do those things at that age? When was the last time you were 3, 4 or 8 years old? It’s been a long time, right? And when adults put adult thoughts on kid thinking, it’s not the same. I never had to ask a parent, “Um, Mrs. Parent, will you please stop putting your toes in your mouth/running into the wall/licking your scab?”
My goal is to help ease the burden on parents by helping them understand and work with their kids in healthy ways, ways that keep the parents sane. Because the kids, well, they’re pretty great.
I love my work, because I get to help parents see something about their kids they may have missed. Like how great they are or the things they can do well as compared to national child development standards. When a 3 year-old can walk sideways and backwards I jump up and down! It’s quite an amazing feat. I’m just positive they’ll be a hugely successful athlete, and parents tend to listen to me because I’m scary. Nah, not really. I teach with all heart, but I’m very well educated and a 4th degree black belt.
Tips seem to be very popular so here are two of my favorite examples:
Tip #1: Put yourself in your child’s shoes.
A parent that was frustratedly trying to teach his son how to tie his shoes. The son was not only not getting it, but was getting upset because his dad was obviously upset. The dad’s point was that it’s easy: You just tie your shoes. I mean, it’s so simple, right? You take the bunny through the other ears, err, or the ears through the rabbit hole, err or the rabbit…wait, how does that song go anyway?
So the parent, who is an amazingly lovely man, was getting frustrated because his 4 year-old son should just know how the shoes get tied. Doesn’t everyone? Don’t we just KNOW? I gently asked the father (okay, gently for me), “How old are you, Mr. Parent?”
“Forty-four,” he answered, not sure what this had to do with his son’s obvious ineptitude at Shoe Tying 101 and was fearful the child might flunk out of kindergarten.
“So it’s been about 40 years since you learned how to tie your shoes. Do you remember learning how?” I asked with what I hoped was a gentle smile on my face.
“Yeah…yes I guess it’s been a long time. I don’t remember learning how, I just know that I can do it; that it’s easy.” He cocked his head to the side, knowing I was going to make a point and trying to figure out what it was.
Smiling, I said, “Sure it’s easy. You’ve been tying your shoes for 40 years. Your son hasn’t learned it yet. When he’s 44 I’m sure he’ll be a pro,” I laughed. “In fact, I’m sure that in his preschool class he’s way ahead of the other kids at shoe tying. He’s more than halfway there. So thank God for Velcro.”
Thank goodness he laughed, and the relief on his son’s face was priceless. He knew he wasn’t in trouble in anymore. And from that day on I think that father looked at his son a little differently. That’s what he told me, years later.
Tip #2: Put yourself in your child’s place.
A father is frustrated (it’s not always just the dads, but two of my favorite examples are) because he didn’t find his son able to focus.
“He can’t sit still. He can’t read a book and not have to move around, ask questions, get distracted or want to talk. He rarely finishes his homework in one sitting. I’m worried. This can’t be good. How will his future look if this is how he acts?” Mr. Parent had a pained look on his face, really concerned at how he can help his son.
Since he was so serious I wasn’t about to make light of this up front. I needed details. Solid facts. If I was going to help this dad feel better about his son, I was going to need to come up with some strategies pretty fast to mitigate his concern. No kid likes to know when his dad is frustrated or displeased and the kid is just being himself, a kid.
“Okay,” I sighed, sending out a little prayer that I’d create an action plan that helped. “How long can he focus in one sitting?”
“It’s bad. It’s maybe 20-30 minutes, and he can’t go any longer than that. I have to force him to sit still after that.” He looked at me knowing the prognosis was bad. It was going to be awful. I could tell from the look on his face that he was thinking the worst.
I laughed out loud, much to his surprise. “Mr. Parent, your son is 7 years-old. Having an attention span that lasts even 20 minutes is miraculous. I was thinking you were going to say 2 minutes. This, this isn’t as bad as you were thinking. He’s got the ability to focus. Think of it this way: 20-30 minutes for a 7 year old is like 90 minutes to an adult. How long do you sit in a chair at a lecture or speaker before your attention starts to wander? Before you start to get antsy? ”
“Oh, maybe 45 minutes, an hour if it’s a good speaker.” The light dawned on him. His son wasn’t broken, wasn’t faulty. He was going to be just fine. The relief that spread across his face was beautiful, and he laughed! Seeing what he’d been doing, putting a CFO’s version of “Focus” on a 7 year-old. It’s moments like this that I’m so grateful that I teach what I teach.
I smiled, “So our strategy is this: add 5 minute increments on to what he’s comfortable with. Give him breaks after 20-30 minutes then let him get back to ‘his work’. By allowing him the freedom to move or chat after he’s focused, it will help him feel more comfortable when he gets restless.”
The results? The dad saw his son in a new light, and was much easier on him. And the son? Well, he just continues to amaze.