HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
December 25, 2006, Herald Journal

Torn to pieces


We, as parents and caregivers, have all probably said some things to our children that we wished we wouldn’t have said; or maybe it was just how we said it. Especially in times of stress, it is easy to overreact emotionally.

Although children are resilient, what and how we say and do, both positively and negatively, certainly has an impact on how children view things and themselves.

And the best thing that we can do is to apologize, setting an example, that we all make mistakes, and, of course, try not to do it again, even if it means taking an adult “time-out” to regain composure so we don’t get caught up in a yelling match or saying something we should not have said.

In some coursework I was working on the other night I was reading a chapter focusing on communication, self-esteem and cooperation activities to do with children from Keeping the Peace, by Susanne Wichert.

One activity, I’m All Torn Up, contributed by Cheryl Nelson, really sent a reminder to me of how our interactions, words and actions affect our children and how they feel, and many times we don’t even realize it.

I’d like to share the activity with you. It can be done with a group of children or one child.

You tell the children or child a story:

“I’m going to draw a picture of (fill in name).” ______ woke up this morning feeling happy. She was anxious to get to school and play with all her friends. Yesterday, the teacher had promised her a turn on the new toy, and she was looking forward to it.”

“She got dressed and skipped downstairs to have breakfast. When she got downstairs, the first thing her father said to her was, ‘Oh! Those pants are filthy. Go and put on a clean pair, and hurry or we will be late!’ ______ did not feel quite as good anymore.” (At this point tear off a piece of the picture and put it down beside you.)

“When she came back downstairs she tried to drink her milk quickly so they wouldn’t be late, and it accidentally spilled. Her father said, ‘Oh! Why don’t you watch what you are doing?’ She felt a little less good after that.” (Tear another piece).

“When they were in the car going to school, ______’s brother poked her with a book. When she complained, her father said, ‘Please be quiet. I hate it when you fight all the time.’ She felt a little less good.” (Tear another piece).

“When they got to school, the teacher was busy and only said, ‘Hello.’ before she went to help someone else. She felt less good. (Yep, tear another piece.)

“Her father was in a hurry and left without giving her a kiss. She felt even less good.

“Two of her friends, Amy and Paul, were playing with a doll Paul had brought from home. When she asked if she could play with them, Paul said, ‘No, I only want to play with Amy.’ She felt less good.

“She went and asked her teacher if she could have her turn to play with the new toy, but the teacher told her she couldn’t because it was almost time to clean up. She felt even less good.”

(You may add some more instances, or change them to reflect some things that have actually happened to a child that day.)

“By that time, ______ wasn’t feeling very happy any more.”

After reading this story, it is recommended to ask and discuss with the children or child how she is feeling. “Have you ever felt this way? Why?”

Discuss with the child things she could do herself to feel better and some interactions with others that could do the same.

With each good suggestion, allow the child to help you tape a piece back on the paper until it is whole again.

The activity was written to do with younger children, but scenarios for older children could easily be replaced.

It made me really think about those times when our child may accidentally spill their milk, and it is morning and time to get to school, and we so quickly say, “Not again, why did you do that, be careful” as if they meant to do it and we, as adults, have never spilled a glass of milk.” We just clean it up and go on with our day.

Instead we can say, “Accidents happen. Let’s try to keep our milk away from the edge of the table. Please help me clean it up.” Then quickly clean it up together (depending on age), thank her and go on with your day.

Such activities, whether done or not, are reminders to me that what we say and do certainly effects our children, their affect, attitude, demeanor and self-esteem.

So maybe, next time we spill a glass of milk, our children will say to us, “It was only an accident. How about if we just clean it up?” Wouldn’t that be good.