No-Cry Friday

June 14, 2007 @ 8:32 pm | Filed under:

MotherTalk has dubbed June 15 "No-Cry Friday" in conjunction with the blog tour of Elizabeth Pantley’s book, The No-Cry Discipline Solution. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m interested. Parenting literature is, in case you haven’t noticed, a pet interest of mine. I’m partial to the work of Dr. Sears, myself. And also (I know this will be a shocker to veteran Bonny Glen/Lilting House readers) Charlotte Mason.

For my contribution to No-Cry Friday, I am reprising a recent Bonny Glen post that generated a lot of nice feedback; a goodish number of people seemed to find it useful.

A Word Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

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."

A month later, the image continues to prove useful—and not just for the child in question. I often remind myself not to tip my cup, too. For parents, the saying should be: "Don’t shout over spilled milk." The other night I was listening to a talk on mindful parenting by Ren Allen and Sandra Dodd, recorded at the 2005 Live and Learn Unschooling Conference. Ren said that a big shift in her parenting style came when she realized that "between every action and reaction, there is a moment"—a moment in which you, the parent, can choose how to react. Kneejerk parenting—reacting with the first emotion that rushes over you when something goes wrong—can become a habit, but we can all break it. We can take a breath and choose a different reaction, a calmer, kinder one.

Another image my kids and I have used to help us control our tempers is to think of temper as a horse. You’re the rider of the horse; you hold the reins. Lots of times, something is going to happen to upset that horse; it’s going to want to rear up and buck and come down hooves flying, stomping, charging at the offender. But we don’t have to let that horse run wild; we can choose to rein it in.

Both metaphors, the bucking horse and the tipping cup, have been really useful ways for my kids and me to talk frankly and constructively about emotion, temper, reaction, anger, and patience. I have found that in an emotionally charged situation, an angry child will respond much better to a lighthearted, "Whoa, there! Don’t let that horse get away from you!" than any kind of scolding or sternness on my part.

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10 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. CJ says:

    Thank you for this!

  2. Christine M says:

    This is great – I think I can use this with my little “hot head” – Thanks.

  3. dregina says:

    This reminds me of my friend Amber, who has a wonderful metaphor she uses with her 4 year old when he starts to resist going along with whatever they need to do to get on with their day (getting dressed, getting back out of the pool when it’s time to stop swimming, coming off the playground, etc – those types of transitions are really hard for him).

    She says, “Elyjah, do you want to take the Easy Street or the Hard Road? Do you remember how much better you feel when you take Easy Street? Which way do you want to go today?”

    And you can see his little mind just churning, his little heart churning, as he struggles with his desire to do what he wants versus what he’s been asked to do. But by being given the choice to either take Easy Street or the Hard Road, he gains some power back no matter what he chooses, and Amber does a great job rewarding him with something small whenever he does choose Easy Street. I have TOTALLY filed this away in my repertoire for when I have children. Ditto with the horse and cup. Great post!

  4. Roni says:

    wow…thanks for the metaphor.

  5. Mary Beth P says:

    Thanks a lot- I have been struggling a lot with shouting at my kids- I feel so terrible after, and vow to not do it anymore, but then fall into the habit again. I think I will try your suggestions!

  6. caroline says:

    Oh, these are very helpful metaphors for me today, thank you!

  7. Kathryn says:

    Thank you! My 8yo is struggling with her temper, which is not helped when I over react.

  8. Kathryn says:

    Thank you! My 8yo is struggling with her temper, which is not helped when I over react.

  9. EEEEMommy says:

    Great post! Some people have a natural gift for analogies and metaphores; I’m lacking in that department myself. I am reminded of a book I read for a Marriage and Family class in college: The Language of Love by Gary Smalley (not to be confused with The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). Gary Smalley talks about the power of word pictures in that book, I need to pull it out and review it myself.

  10. Heather says:

    Great post! Thanks for the reminders about word pictures. I wrote a post not too long ago based on a quote from Amy Carmichael. She said, “A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly it is jarred.” My paraphrase–Whatever you are filled up with will spill out when you are bumped.
    And the horse and bridle picture comes right out of James 3 talking about the controlling our tongue.
    Great reminders! Thanks!!