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What to Say in Difficult Moments

By Heather Turgeon & Julie Wright 4 min read

There are ways to get your children to listen and obey, even when they really don't want to.

As a parent, there are moments when you’re just trying to get by. You want your child to listen, to stop crying or complaining, to get with the program and keep moving. But there’s a voice in the back of your head telling you that being a parent is about more than getting by.

When you think about your bigger goals as a parent, it puts the everyday struggles in a different light. Yes, you want the shoes to go on, the crying to stop and the homework to get done. But ultimately, you want something deeper. You want a loving, strong connection with your child. You want to teach them, to support their growing brain to think creatively, to cultivate empathy and to develop problem-solving skills and self-esteem.

Attune, limit set and problem solve, or “ALP”, is an approach that will enable you to spend less time struggling and more time enjoying your kids. ALP allows you not just to get through difficult moments, but to connect and deepen your family relationships.

On the facing page are some scenarios where ALP can come into play:

Scenario

Attune

Limit Set

Problem Solve

Your child is sick and really upset about missing a birthday party.

It’s hard, I know you wanted to go to that party. You’re disappointed.

We’re going to stay home to let your body rest. And it’s important not to get other people sick too.

Should we plan a special playdate with your friend to celebrate?

An eight-year-old boy is angry and out of control when his video game playing time is up. He throws a glass, which hits the wall and breaks.

Additional safety step: Stop. Everyone stay where you are. There’s broken glass. Is anyone hurt?

I get that it feels terrible to stop your game in the middle.

You may not throw or break things. It’s incredibly dangerous. It could really hurt someone, as I’m sure you see.

What do you think we should do now? (Wait for him to suggest an action, such as getting the broom.) Sounds like a good plan. (Later, continue.) I can help you write a list of things that are okay to do when you get angry, like tear up old newspapers or punch pillows. I’m sure you have some good ideas.

You want your child to clean up, but he’s not listening.

Yeah, picking stuff up is not so much fun. I get it. We’d both rather be doing something else in this moment!

It’s time to clean up. I’ll work on the kitchen while you work on your room. We can help each other with whatever’s left over.

Let’s get this done so we can go and shoot some hoops. Wanna choose some music to listen to while we clean? Should we race to see who gets their job done first?

“That’s not fair! How come he [their sibling] got an ice-cream after school and I didn’t?” 

You saw Rex with the ice-cream and felt left out. I know the feeling.

Reality (in place of limit set): Rex had a tough day at school today and we decided to get ice-cream together and talk about it.

Sometimes I do this kind of thing with you, like a few weeks ago when we stopped for a smoothie on the way home from your swimming class. Remember, you were so hungry?

Mummy and I don’t always do the same things with you guys. You are each different people and have different things going on. We also sometimes like to have special time with each of you and then you can choose what you want to do.

Your older, more rational child is building paper airplanes. The younger, tornado-like child destroys them.

Oh, man, Evelyn, I know you worked hard making all of your paper airplanes. You had quite a fleet of them. Leah crushed them and you’re mad.

Leah, I think you were curious and didn’t know how fragile they are. Am I missing anything?

Leah, I’m going to make it a rule for now that you don’t touch Evelyn’s airplanes. The reason is that they are too delicate and fragile to play with.

Hmm, what could we do?

(Wait. If they need more scaffolding . . . )

Maybe we could help Leah make some very simple paper airplanes of her own and then she can do whatever she wants with those. And what would you think of keeping yours up on this shelf where she can’t reach them?

The kids are running around and not moving into their bedtime routine.

Additional preparation step: “In five minutes, we’ll get into Pjs. Everyone do your last thing.”

Oh, man, we’re all super energetic right now! I’m putting on some wind-down music.

It’s time for Pjs.

Anyone need help with theirs, or you got it? (Or) Anyone need an airplane lift to the bedroom?


This is an edited extract from Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, (Scribe $29.99).

Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright are psychotherapists who run an American-based sleep and parenting practice, helping to solve parenting dilemmas. They offer consultations all over the world for babies, toddlers and school-age children.


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