The Supporter Parenting Role: The “Boredom Problem” Example
Child: “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
Potential parent responses:
- “What do you mean you’re bored and there’s nothing to do? You can help me fold the laundry, play with your sister, or read.”
- “I buy you all of these toys, and you just ignore them.”
- “When I was your age, I played outside. You should do that.”
These parent responses are examples of communication blocks, and they usually upset the child because the parent is trying to fix a problem that isn’t theirs to fix. Your child is making a complaint and needs to find their own solution. Therefore, when you respond sarcastically, give advice, moralize, or engage in me-tooism (talk about your experience as being more important to the moment at hand), they feel hurt rather than helped. Your unintended message is that they are not capable of figuring out what to do on their own. This message conveys the exact opposite of what you want, i.e. your child to figure out how to not be bored.
As parents, we often have a difficult time hearing the “boredom complaint” because it triggers our own upset feelings when our child is unhappy. These feelings can come from believing we’re bad parents or remembering childhood times when we felt hurt. As a result of our pain, we try to fix the source of our unhappiness in the moment, our child. Therefore, instead of helping our child, we block communication. When our child then rejects our help, we feel hurt and may get angry. This pattern of interaction continues in a vicious cycle until we learn to approach the problem differently.
Shifting how you handle the “boredom problem” starts with asking yourself who owns the problem and who is requesting to find a solution. Your child wants to not be bored, and no rules are broken, so your child is responsible for finding the solution. When you tell your kids what to do, you are assuming the Director role. Since the problem is theirs to solve, this situation calls for you to choose the problem-solving Supporter role to guide your kids toward a good solution of their choice. Don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity to teach problem-solving skills!
Your Supporter role consists of three important steps from the Emotional Support Process. First, be aware of and avoid words that shut down connection and communication. Second, listen for the feelings or thoughts behind your child’s words and offer empathetic statements so the child feels heard and can vent without judgment. Third, offer a framework for problem-solving together. Remember that some children need only steps one and two to nudge them from feeling stuck to feeling creative.
The first step in the process is to acknowledge your emotional triggers and realize that this is not your problem to fix. Choose to not feel annoyed, irritated, or frustrated. Rather, choose to feel compassionate, so you can listen and offer support. To create this mental shift, tell yourself, “This is my child’s challenge, and I can help him through it rather than be annoyed by it.” If you find yourself stuck in the self-centered Director role, you have lost your child’s perspective and will not be able to offer effective support.
The second step in the process involves asking yourself, “What thoughts or feelings could be behind my child’s statement, ‘I’m bored?'” When kids are upset and you try to fix them, they feel hurt by your suggestions, which turns into anger directed at you. Rather than trying to fix things, the best help you can give a child is the opportunity to vent and regain their creativity and flexibility.
You create this supportive space when you respond with tentative comments about your child’s experience. Notice that the following examples are not questions but statements that can be refuted by your child. You aren’t trying to be right, just supportive of whatever your child needs from you at that moment.
Supportive statements would be: “Not knowing what to do is frustrating.”
“I guess nothing seems fun right now.”
“You sound lonely.”
“You’re having a hard time right now.”
Try out these suggestions and create your own statements that allow space and time for your child to release her emotions. After each empathetic statement, be quiet in order to gently loosen your child’s stuck feelings so they can flow out of the frazzled limbic system, the emotional system within the brain. Your child may need several empathetic responses from you before she is ready to solve the problem logically.
After listening to venting, venture into the third step of problem-solving, which involves the logical brain known as the prefrontal cortex. Your attitude must be, “This is my child’s problem to solve, so he will make the final decision. I’m not going to sway him in any direction because that could feel manipulative. I’ll help evaluate our suggestions. This is a chance for him to practice problem-solving with my support. It will also build our relationship.” Here is an abbreviated example of the three-step problem-solving process where you are a Supporter.
Steps 1 and 2: Avoid blocking communication and listen with empathy.
Child: “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
Parent: “That’s too bad.” (Don’t use blocks. Just use empathy.)
Child: “There’s no one to play with, and there’s nothing to do. “
Parent: “You sound stuck. I wonder what you’ll find to do.”
Child: “Everyone is busy.” (Be careful to not disagree with this exaggeration. Your child is venting now.)
Step 3: Brainstorm ideas and evaluate.
Parent: “We could come up with some ideas together if that would be helpful.
Parent: “How about you start with an idea.”
Child: “I don’t know. I guess I could call Matt.”
Parent: “You could. Another idea is to build one of your models.”
Child: “I’d rather do something with my friends.”
Parent: “That’s good to know. It sounds like Matt would be a good place to start. “
Child: “I’ll call him now.”
Parent: “I’d be okay with either playing here or at his house. Let me know what he says, and then we’ll go from there.”
Patience, self-awareness, and a nonjudgmental attitude are necessary qualities in the Supporter role as you guide children on the path to successfully solving problems. As you develop these qualities, you will boost your child’s logical prefrontal cortex and develop a tighter bond and support system between family members.
All details are in Cynthia Klein’s book: Ally Parenting” A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation which you can find in softcover, eBook, and audio on Amazon.
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