“One of the first things we have to do is we have to neutralize situations. ” ~ Deslynn Mecham
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 on Learning, sponsored by Stride. Before we get started today on part three of our Schooling Effectively at Home series, I would like to share that you can ignite your interests with Stride's new enrichment programs. Join students and adults across the country as you dive deeper into your interests, build professional portfolios, and more. Topics include drone flight, entrepreneurship, storytelling through photography, music and coding, playwriting, mobile app development, and even a drone certification program for learning coaches with ranging participation costs. These programs are open to students in ninth through 12th grade who are enrolled at a K12-powered school. Applications close September 30th with programs starting in early October. Explore your current Stride enrichment program options and get ready to try something new at k12.com/stride-enrichment.
Well, welcome to part three of the Schooling Effectively at Home series of episodes. Today, we're going to talk about the challenges of arguing, complaining, and whining, oh my. I remember as a young person having dreams about my future family. My home would resemble the perfect family portrait. All the children would be perfectly groomed, well behaved, color coordinated, and we would enjoy a harmonious life together. You've seen these perfect, beautiful families on social media. Some of us ask, "Why can't I get things together and have a portrait, perfect family like theirs?" Oh, my friends, you know better. When I became a mother, my eyes were opened. I discovered those family portraits were often combinations of several attempts at perfection and then cut and pasted to the perfection scene. Well, I learned as a mother that a family, a wonderful family, mind you, was hands-on, down and dirty. There are those perfect portrait moments, for sure, but they came at the cost of everyday learning and growing together inside your home. There is likely a young child testing boundaries and a parent who needs skills to teach the child how to navigate those hard times.
Today Deslynn Mecham is back and sharing skills all parents and partners need to model a response to that arguing, complaining, and whining.
Deslynn Mecham, welcome back for part three of our Schooling Effectively at Home series. Today, we are going to talk a little bit about, in fact, we've been titled this, "Arguing, Complaining, and Whining, Oh My." Just the title makes me say, "Yep."
Deslynn Mecham: Yep. It's a trio that definitely goes together.
Heidi Higgins: It really is. And it doesn't matter if you're schooling your children at home, it just is the fact that there's children at home. But when it comes to trying to get them with their job description, motivating, and then we run into some of these things, today we're going to give you some skills and some ideas for some potential remedies. Just nice to have you back, Deslynn.
Deslynn Mecham: Thank you. I love teaching these skills. These are things that I've learned along the way and that I've learned from other people. And so it's wonderful and helpful for me to remember them too, I still continue to work with learning coaches. You know, I live here in the beautiful state of Idaho and we have a beautiful area just north of me on the way to west Yellowstone. It's called Mesa Falls. You've probably been there, Heidi, and it's gorgeous. Beautiful flowing water and big waterfalls and big cliffs. And we've gone there several times with our children throughout the years and now with our grandchildren. And I was a little nervous to take the grandchildren there, because I can remember, you kind of just walk up and it's like, you could fall over really easily, but, sure enough, they still have these nice strong metal railings. You can get right up to the edge and look over and see the water, see the beauty. And as the adult in the situation, I felt good.
I was like, "Okay, we're safe. I've got this boundary here that is protecting us." My little ones could feel safe. All the parents could feel good because we had a boundary there and we knew we were safe. And when we are working with our kids and these little habits of arguing, complaining, and whining come up, sometimes those start to hit when our boundaries aren't really clear at home, when we don't have a solid foundation.
I was raising little lawyers in my house. I love a good argument. I'll argue with somebody. It wasn't the healthiest thing we could do. And I also found, as we started schooling at home, "Whoa, I don't have time for that." Because we could have argued over everything and the complaining and when she didn't like something and the whining creeps in. So I really had to take a look at some boundaries for us.
And, again, you've heard throughout this series and you'll continue to hear that this is really about me. This is about me as a learning coach because this is what I can control. And so I'm going to look really closely at what I'm doing that maybe sometimes even encourages the arguing and the complaining and the whining because of my responses. And I want you to think about metal railing there at Mesa Falls. How would we feel if we walked up to that and I maybe saw a few loose wires up at the top? I'd be a little nervous as I got a little closer to it. If I saw that the stairs were crumbling a little bit. Ooh, I would kind of step back a little ways. And I want to liken that to myself as a learning coach. I want to be firm, okay?
I want to be a soft place to land, but I want my children to know they can argue with me, they can complain, and they can whine and I'm not going to break down. I'm not going to crumble. My stairs aren't going to get crumbly. I can be solid. I can be a healthy and safe and loving place for them to fall, but I'm still going to be a wall. I'm going to be a boundary. And even though our children are crying, or complaining, or maybe they're even really distancing themselves from us, I can still show that I'm here, I'm following my job description, and I can set the model of what a good, healthy, emotional adult is going to do when we're unhappy, when we don't like our schoolwork, when this gets hard and I want to whine and complain about being a learning coach too.
So, one of the first things we have to do is we have to neutralize situations and I've always thought, as I talk about neutralizing situations, I can't help but think of that lovely blue bottle that you buy at the store called Febreze. And it says on it, "Neutralizes odors." And we went through a lot of Febreze in my house. You've got a son and I've got a son and sons come with their friends after school and we need to pull out the Febreze sometimes, right?
Heidi Higgins: That's right.
Deslynn Mecham: We need to neutralize some odors. And to liken that with schooling at home, there's nothing that is more stinky than arguing with a 14 year old all day. It really wears on us. It wears on them, but I always think, "Well, they're younger, they've got a lot more energy, so they're going to go a lot longer." So I've got to have a skill in my back pocket. I need to do some neutralizing. So just some simple skills.
First, when we're looking at neutralizing a situation, if somebody's like, "Well, this isn't fair, and I don't like this, and how come," and all the why's, when we hear that tone of voice, when we see their body language, we want to soak up the emotion of the situation. And I want you to just picture one of those big sponges that they use at the car wash. We're doing a lot of car washes these days while it's dusty and hot, and they have those big kidney shaped sponges. And just think of that huge sponge. I want you to be a sponge. And when the sadness comes and the tears, and the complaining, we're going to just soak it up. And it's hard. I'm not saying this is easy, but if we can first recognize that there is not going to be any learning taking place when my student is in that mindset. "Ah," okay. No. Did you laugh, was that loud enough? That's the sound that was happening at my house from both my student and myself.
So I'm going to soak up the situation. I'm going to have a few key phrases and these are famous at the Love and Logic Institute. They are about empathy and soaking up the emotion of a situation. And so when they're complaining about something, I'm going to just have a key phrase, "Probably so. Maybe so. Could be. I know. Oh, I bet it feels that way." I'm going to keep the tone of my voice really low. And this is where the practice comes because I could always say, "Well, probably so. Yeah, I know. I bet it feels that way." Big difference. My student is going to hear that and know I don't mean any of it. I don't mean a single thing, but if I can be like, "Oh, probably so," I'm just soaking up, I'm just filling up that sponge right now. I'm getting the emotion out of the situation.
I'm a grandma right now and this reminds me of, I've got a little three month old grandson and yeah, he'll just be crying and he's so upset about something. He's a baby. I can't have a conversation with him. I just hold him. And I just rock him. And he just screams and wails, and his body stretches and flails about, and I just hold him and I know his energy. He's going to get it all out. And I'm just holding out. I'm a safe place. I'm holding him. I'm that wrought iron fence there at the edge of the cliff. And I got you, buddy. I got you. And I'm just holding him and he's just getting all of the emotion out and I'm just soaking it all in.
I am not taking it personally. When that baby's crying in my arms, I'm not taking it personally. When my 14 year old is, "You aren't, this isn't fair. You told me to dabadabada..." I'm not taking it personally. I'm going to just soak it up. "Maybe so, probably so." When I first started schooling at home with Emma, I was taking a lot of notes because I knew I needed some help. I was the one that was flailing a lot. And so, one day, it was a particularly rough day, and it had to do over math and writing usually, and I wrote down everything she was saying to me. And it was arguing. It was complaining. It was whining. And I just used this broken record. And I just tried to soak up the emotion of the situation.
So these are actual things that she said to me all within five minutes: "This is too hard. I don't like being at home. My friends don't have to do this," just on and on. And so, as a sponge, I'm going to soak up the situation. And so I'm going to have my little phrase. "This is too hard." "Could be." "I don't like being at home." "Maybe so." "My friends don't have to do this." "I know." "My friends are learning way easier stuff than this." "Probably so." "I'll never get done." "Could be." "I was calmed down and then you made me worry." That was one of my favorites. And I had to try really hard not to laugh, but I loved it. "I was calmed down and then you made me worry." "Could be." "You just want to make me work harder." "Maybe so."
And I'm only going to use one of those phrases. I was just kind of giving you an example of some different words that you could use. I'm going to redirect as best I can by using an empathetic statement like maybe so and your tone of voice, super important. "It's too hard." "Could be. And what page are you on?" "I don't like being at home." "Could be. And what page are we on right now?" You know, I'm just going to redirect to the same thing. Now, when you start a skill like this, depending on your child, they may escalate. They may start screaming. It doesn't mean that you're not doing the right thing, because they're sensing a loss of control because you are not out of control. If the dance that you're usually doing with your child is, "It's too hard." "It's not hard. You're not reading through the assignment. If you would just read through the assignment and then write it out here, this isn't hard."
Okay? Now I'm being really nice, right? I'm being a loving, kind parent. But, in this moment, I can tell, because I'm working on my relationship with her, I can tell in this moment she is not here to listen to anything I have to say. She just wants to be bummed right now. It might be too hard. And so I can be like, "Could be. And, and what page are we on?" I'm not going to get into content with her right now in the middle of this emotion. We want to bring down the emotion and it may take a while. And it may take a while for you too. I know this was hard for me. I don't like disrespect. Maybe they might move into being disrespectful. That's not something I'm going to put up with. Again, so I'm setting this boundary, I'm going to work on some skills so that they can push up against that wall, but I'm not going to crumble because she tells me, "My friends don't have to do this."
"Well, your friends are, let me tell you, I was talking to your friend's mother the other day." Can you see where every one of these statements, if I would've jumped in with her and started to get into the content? Where are we at? Is learning taking place right now? But I would say, too, as I'm going through this empathetic exercise with her, that learning is still taking place. She's learning how to calm down. I'm learning how to calm down and I'm modeling for her. "Hmm. Maybe so. Could be." It's a skill to work on. It's a slow fix, as I say, nothing super, super quick and super easy.
Heidi Higgins: It is a slow fix. And this is the education that we get from having our children at home is learning how to deal with those emotions. I like to take it personally a little bit more often.
Deslynn Mecham: Yes. It's hard not to.
Heidi Higgins: It is. And especially if that disrespect comes in.
Deslynn Mecham: Yes.
Heidi Higgins: And I love that you said that your children need to see your back, because sometimes if I simply withdraw and go into my room, leave the door open, flail on my bed for a minute, my well-made bed by the way, trying to be a model here, take and take a minute and then get up and come back. They can see that maybe that's how we deal with the things that are frustrating, because I'm going to feel those same frustrations. I want the control. I can take over. Let me show you. But to hold those feelings, to share that control, and then to be empathetic in their frustration, that takes a skill.
Deslynn Mecham: Well, and when they say something, I always talk about, we walk around with these big red buttons on our chest. And the one on mine says, "I'm fair." Mine says, "I'm fun." Mine says, "I am so great to be around." And all my daughter has to say, "Is this isn't fun. You make this miserable." Or, "Oh, that's the big red button." That I'm like, "Are you kidding me? Let me tell you what I am doing that makes this amazing for you." But that's not the time. And especially when it goes into disrespect or if it just crosses your line, whatever your line is, when it crosses it, but you can still keep the momentum going, they may say, "This is miserable. I don't like you." "Maybe so, sounds like we both need to take a break right now." And I walk away. I can still shut it down. I do not have to sit and engage with a disrespectful child.
No, I have control over leaving. I have control over my voice. I have control over the words that come out of my mouth. I don't have control over what comes out of theirs. So I don't have to take it personally. I can feel really good about what I'm doing. If I say something that I'm not proud of, if I react, if I engage, which I did, which I still do to this day with adult children, I get my buttons pushed. They're not bad people. I just have sensitivities that are like, "Ooh, let's not go there." I still have to pull back and show them how I fix it. "Okay. I didn't handle that well, but I'm going to wait." I'm going to wait until that sponge is fully soaked up with the emotion of the situation. And it may be at six o'clock tonight, I'm going to talk and say, "Okay, we had a rough, rough go today. Let's talk about it."
I'm going to address what they need. I'm going to talk about their concerns. I am not going to just think that my child is not having a hard time. She is, she's having a hard time. And she is an amazing young lady. And I love her to pieces. And she's having a hard, hard time right now. And during that hard time is not when I'm going to give her all my wisdom, because I have so much. So I'm going to wait until we'll hold back a little. I'm going to hold back until her mindset is in a place that she can listen or she can at least lean into me. You know, it's like for a littler one it may be a cuddle on the couch, for somebody who's not as touchy they may just at least stay in the room with you.
It just depends on your unique situation and your unique household, and that child, and you. We're all unique and we're all going to do this a little differently. So add your own spice to this and your personality, for sure.
Heidi Higgins: It helps. And I was giggling, but this is serious business.
Deslynn Mecham: Yes it is.
Heidi Higgins: And it can lock into any relationship, the arguing, and the complaining, and the whining can be in any relationship, whether it be a spouse or a child or a grown child. These kinds of things happen in the world today. And it's important to develop these skills that counter the arguing, whining, and complaining, and to not engage. To not engage.
Deslynn Mecham: And I always like to think of it too, as we're talking about that big fence there at the Mesa Falls, or think of a crumbling wall, arguing, complaining, and whining is that first little crack.
It's that first little chain link that starts to lose, gets stretched out, or gets pushed in a lot and it doesn't get fixed. Arguing, whining, and complaining can be the first little crack in the wall. And that's what the kids will feel if you are not able to work, no one's going to be perfect at this. And I certainly don't want this to seem like unattainable because it is, it can really be a place where you grow your relationship with your child. And that little crack, though, can become part of the crumbling if we don't learn to get the arguing and the complaining under control. And it's a big part of a school day, depending on your student. And if you've got a student that is struggling with schools, struggling with learning, doesn't like this situation, arguing, and complaining, and whining is where they're going to pick at.
And they're not bad kids. They're wonderful kids. They're trying to test you and see, "Okay, are you serious? Do you really want to do this?" And you have to be solid. I know we didn't take this decision lightly to come in and bring our daughter home and school at home. We had a lot of restless nights and thinking about it and excitement then thinking about it. And then it happens and it's like, "Oh, whoa, this is really hard. This is really hard. I don't think this is enhancing our relationship."
So there are skills we can put into place where you can enhance the relationship and really see it start to blossom. But that blossom comes with a lot of work, a lot of hoeing and watering and weeding to see things blossom.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you, Deslynn, for joining us today and talking about setting the boundaries so that we can overcome the arguing, and the complaining, and the whining. Thank you again. We've got some more fun things coming up, Deslyn. We're going to talk about how to set a game plan for success in our next episode, and we will welcome you back then. Thanks for joining us today.
Deslynn Mecham: Thank you.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 on Learning, sponsored by Stride to learn more about online public schools, powered by Stride K12, our Stride career prep programs that foster lifelong learning, or any of our private school or individuals course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 on Learning.
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