Gracie had a dilemma. She was really good at baseball, but, at 8 years old, her options to play were limited. She could play softball with the girls, but she wanted to play baseball with the boys. She wanted the challenge, but…
“What if they tease me because I’m a girl? What if I’m not good enough to make the team? What if I goof up and can’t do it right?” Gracie was so worried about all this stuff that her tummy was in knots.
“Wow!” her daddy exclaimed, “That’s a lot of ‘what ifs’” he took a breath and thought for a moment. “You know, we won’t be able to answer all of these questions until next year if you pass on the tryouts today. I would hate for you to spend all that time without knowing.”
Gracie’s dad chose a teachable moment for his daughter. He could have simply said, “Enough! I paid good money to register you for these tryouts and you’re going.” Yeah, that would have worked. I can just imagine the knots getting bigger in Gracie’s tummy.
Instead, her dad active listened his daughter’s feelings, to help her calm down. When he saw that Gracie’s emotional fever had gone down, he said, “I have some thoughts about how we can handle this situation. Do you want to hear them?” When a parent asks a child for permission to speak, most children are awestruck and gladly agree. In Gracie’s case, she and her dad practiced baseball in the back yard before going to the tryout. Her dad praised her efforts and outcome. He pumped her up for the opportunity to “show her stuff.” Her confidence grew and she took on the challenge.
Generally, when stressed or worried, it’s helpful to start taking slow, deep breaths to help you stay in the moment. When the “what ifs” invade your thinking, convert each one to an “I wonder” statement, followed by a probable positive outcome. Generally, “what if” creates anxiety and worry, while “I wonder” creates curiosity and resolve.
So, in Gracie’s case, “what if I strike out?” becomes, “I wonder how well I will hit the ball.” The embedded positive outcome is, I will hit the ball well. Finally, imagine the outcome you want to happen, in all of its rich and full detail. Write it down or share it with a confidante to make it more real. This picture becomes your reference point as you pursue your goal.
While “what if” equals worry and problems, “I wonder” creates a pathway to helpful activity and success. Helping your child through a difficult situation with active listening and creative, joint problem-solving is the pathway to teachable moments.