The Language of Extremes

Either you have amazing children or you are probably going to hear this phrase at some point this summer:

“There is nothing to do!”

This phrase is closely related to statements such as these:
“I don’t have any good toys.”
“Why don’t we ever do anything fun.”
“We never get to go to McDonalds.”
“Erin always gets to go sleepover at her friend’s house.”

Children often speak in extremes. It is a simple way they can wrap their feelings into a strongly worded statement to get the attention of their parents.

As parents, it’s easy to feel a little defensive when we hear these statements. We reassure ourselves of how good we know our children really have it. We then think about the importance of getting our children to understand the reality of their situation. We proceed to remind them of all the great toys they have, or all the fun things they could do, or that we were just at McDonalds last week.

When this happens, our children thank us for giving them a bigger perspective on their world and they promise not to complain again, but to be thankful daily for all the blessings they have. Right? Not my kids!

As parents who understand that children use extreme language to try to communicate what they are feeling, we need to think about what they are actually trying to communicate.

“There is nothing to do” is clearly a statement that the child does not know what to do. So a great response would be, “So you are really struggling this morning to find something fun to play with.” Then you could work together to come up with a list of possible activities that would hopefully lead to a solution to the dilemma.  My wife actually keeps a list that she made with the kids one day on the bulletin board for easy access when these “nothing to do” moments come up.

“Why don’t we ever do anything fun.” An easy c0meback is to rattle off all the fun things you’ve done in the past week, but the child isn’t really asking for a recap of their week. They are living in the now. You could respond with, “So you feel like we’ve been home a lot this week.  What could we plan together that would be fun for us to do?”  This doesn’t mean that you instantly leave on an outing with the child, but here is a chance to encourage creativity in at-home play or a future outing.

“We never get to go to McDonalds.” A good response would be, “Are you in the mood for some fries? That sounds great to me too! I would love to eat there everyday, but that definitely wouldn’t be too healthy. We’ll eat there again sometime.”

Eventually your child will learn other ways of communicating their feelings beyond using the language of extremes. Discussing what they are trying to say with these strong statements will be an important step in developing better communication skills.

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