A Different Way of Doing Things

Teaching our children to think about how to respond to the situations they face

By Wendy Anne Clark

(C) 2009

We have a kind of game we’ve played with our kids called “What could they have done differently?” or “What could we do differently?”  It goes like this:  something doesn’t go well, and we take a look at why and how things might have been different.

Here’s an example:  one of my daughters came home from kindergarten upset.  One of the other girls in her class had passed out birthday invitations for many other children, but she didn’t receive one.  I said something like this:  “That must have really hurt your feelings.  Why do you think it felt so bad?”  She responded that she had felt left out because so many other kids were invited.

I said that perhaps the girl couldn’t invite everyone, and if that was the case, “What could she have done differently?”  My daughter suggested ways that the other girl might have been more careful in handing out the invitations, or given them before or after school, or even given them to parents.  I made a point of explaining that our conversation wasn’t to tell the other girl what to do or to make her feel bad, but so that we would know what to do in the future, so that we would never make someone else feel left out.

Here’s another example: our family was sitting in a restaurant, receiving horrible service from a waitress who looked frazzled and who had several large parties in her station.   We watched her move from table to table, where everyone seemed to be angry with her and she seemed overwhelmed.   When we asked for something she forgot to bring, she snapped at us, and that made us all tense too.  Later, we talked about reasons why she might have been having a hard day or a difficult time and what she could have done differently.

Together, our kids decided that if she forgot something, she should just be nice and apologize, and if she was having an especially hard time at work that day, she should nicely ask for some help from some of the other workers.  Maybe someone else would have helped fill coffee or bring waters or other things people needed.  We talked about how her sharp response made us feel tense, even though we were trying to be sympathetic to her, so just having a softer response could change the mood of the people she was serving.  Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  We saw the second part of that demonstrated for us that day.

So when things don’t go well or exactly as you would have liked, teach your kids to ask, “What could we do differently?” The question promotes some great conversation and teaches your kids to think for themselves and to plan good behavior and responses in advance.  My two oldest are teenagers now, and we laugh now because we find ourselves all saying together, “Okay, what could we do differently?”

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