A Word Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

May 9, 2007 @ 6:52 am | Filed under:

Sometimes I think all my real parenting successes have to do with hitting upon just the right metaphor to illustrate a concept. Patience, example, levelheadedness—forget it. All I’ve really got going for me is a knack for figurative language. But hey, if it works…

One image that has worked wonders here lately is the tipping cup. Years ago, I noticed something about toddlers. If a two-year-old is holding a cup of water, and it tips and begins to spill, the child—rather than righting the cup—will nearly always turn that cup right upside down and dump out the rest of the water. Which is why you only gave the child water, and not juice.

It struck me a certain type of temperament is prone to similar behavior when it comes to anger. I have a hot-tempered child whose natural tendency is to react to any slight upset with a full-fledged outpouring of wrath. If her cup of emotion tips, so to speak, her inclination is to just pour it all out.

So one day I talked to her about toddlers and tipping cups, and how our feelings can be like the water in the cup. She seized hold of the metaphor immediately. We talked about how part of growing up is learning how to straighten your cup back up after you’ve been jostled. You don’t have to let every little splash turn into a big flood.

This image has become a bit of code between us. I’ll see her beginning to lose her temper after something annoying happens. "Straighten your cup," I’ll murmur, and more and more often, she takes a breath, presses her lips together in grim determination—and keeps her temper in check. I’ve come to know the expression on her face that means she is struggling to hold her cup upright. She likes to cuddle up with me in the afternoons and talk about her triumphs.

"I didn’t tip my cup, Mommy," she’ll whisper. "I wanted to pour it all out, right on [insert sister’s name] head." A pause, a wicked chuckle, as she savors the image perhaps a bit too much. She knows there is acid in that cup. "But I didn’t."

And that’s what counts.

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15 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. KimC says:

    Very nice. And worth a thousand words. Thank you – I’ll be using this metaphor in our house too.
    BTW, we have many of those codes you mentioned. I consider them to be a part of our family culture: a whole language of “inside jokes,” but not at all limited to humor.

  2. sarah says:

    Oh, Lissa, this is wonderful. I think I will definitely be borrowing this one. Can my great skill be that I have a friend who thinks of all kinds of great things that I can then tweak for us????

  3. MelanieB says:

    I loved this story.

    It just confirms my suspicion that there isn’t one and only one solution to every parenting problem. We adapt the tools we have in our toolbox to fit the situations we encounter. If your toolbox is filled with writerly tools like metaphors, then more power to you if you can figure out how to use those in parenting.

  4. Kimberlee says:

    Oh, you wise and wonderful Mommy, you! Great post!!

  5. Kathy says:

    What a wonderful metaphor, and the code phrase to help remind her is such a great tool.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Nicely done! That’s a lesson I’ve been trying to teach to my 6yo. She consistently pours the water all over my two yo. And then I pour a big glass all over her. And then… 🙂

  7. Jeanne says:

    My now 9 year old used to enter play dates and gatherings with too much intensity. So we reminded each other that he should turn his “power on low.” It really worked!

  8. Andrea says:

    Oh, I loooooooved this! I’m going to read it to my favorite hothead as soon as he is finished with his math work for the day!

  9. Jane Ramsey says:

    Mind if I borrow it, too?

  10. Elizabeth H says:

    This is just the post for me and my fiery 3yo. Thank you.

  11. Theresa says:

    Nice job! Does it work for whining, too? Please???

  12. Kristen Laurence says:

    Indeed you are gifted, Lissa! Thanks for sharing this.

  13. Karen E. says:

    Chiming in with all the others to say how great this is!

  14. Amy says:

    Using this one on myself – then telling my kids! 🙂

  15. alexsandra says:

    Brilliant! I am going to use it for myself and quite possibly share it with my 23 year old daughter! We both have tipping trouble…
    This is my first visit to your blog and there are so many gems I must return for more reading.
    Some of the subjects I share: sign language, Scotland (4 trips), reading, writing and our Catholic faith.
    Blessings for the New Year!