Friday, June 13, 2008

What'd She Do?

“How would you handle it when you are talking to one child about something they’ve done and a sibling starts asking “what’d she do mom? What’d she do?”

Say the child sprayed another sibling with the hose and parent was explaining that “victim’s” cries implied it was not appreciated and in fact the hose holder herself does not like being sprayed. All the while another sibling is wanting to know “what’d she do?”

I’m supposing one shouldn’t be concerned about answering the question as it was a rather public offense but I worry about telling someone’s stories if they’d rather they not be told.”
-- Sass

My thoughts go in a couple of different directions with this…

It seems to me that just answering the question without judgement is the simplest solution. If something is private enough that it shouldn’t be shared, than it seems to me that it shouldn’t be discussed in a public setting. Of course, it’s also possible to redirect the question – “why don’t you ask her what she did?” Or to find out if it’s okay – “do you mind if I tell your brother what we’re talking about?” Or to answer with a long list… “Well, she woke up, she ate breakfast, she played with you, she went to the bathroom, she came outside, she watered the plants, she watered your brother, she put down the hose, she laughed at my joke… Which part did you miss?”

I wonder, though, if something else is going on. It sounds like maybe there is a punishment mentality here. Like maybe the parent has a certain tone of voice or body language that the kids recognize as meaning that one of them is “in trouble.” If siblings missed the event, much curiosity about what triggered the “in trouble” reaction certainly seems valid from the perspective of avoiding such events in the future. (And I imagine there will be some smug satisfaction coming from those not "in trouble.") Of course, if the parent wants to avoid punishment, then this kind of attention probably trips the guilt switch for her, which makes the whole situation even muddier. The parent doesn’t want to say what happened, because she doesn’t want to own the lecture she realizes she’s handing out… It's important for us to realize that if we are doing something we feel bad about doing, we can always stop. "She sprayed someone with the hose -- let's get some water balloons and bomb the sand box instead!"

I think clarity about what exactly is going on in such a situation will probably lead to an obvious way forward. Maybe the parent needs to pull out the water guns and draw chalk outlines on the fence for everyone to spray. Maybe the whole family needs a safe place for private conversations. Maybe it's time to set up the slip 'n slide. Maybe siblings need to be reminded that they can talk to each other directly and don’t need parents as a translator.

As always, I hope something here helps!

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