Today I’m going to share with you one of my favorite ninja-mom hacks. I started this when my daughter was around two-years-old. This trick has served me SO MANY times when I’ve had to say the most life-altering, mind-bending, heart-wrenching of all words a child can hear: the dreaded “NO.”
Ninety-nine percent of the time when my daughter was little, the “NO” would come quickly after she unknowingly made attempt #3427 on her very life. For example, she might have been jettisoning herself off the couch, climbing on a bookshelf, and, yes, even standing on an art table that had an unfortunately-placed hole in the top for storage. Yep, Rose, the table, the art supplies, and my sanity all took a beating that day…
Inevitably, despite the bumps and bruises, she would go right back to the undesirable action, and it was complete and utter Armageddon if I said she wasn’t able to do it again.
So, in a moment of desperation, I asked her one day…
Me: “Do you know what Mommy’s #1 job is?”
Me: “TO KEEP ROSE SAFE”
Rose: Blank Stare
Me: “Do you understand what that means?”
Rose: Head Nod (Clearly trying to process this unexpected new input.)
Me: “More than anything else in the entire world, more than work, or taking care of myself, or making you dinner, or cleaning the house, my absolute #1 job is to KEEP YOU SAFE. It’s the most important thing I do every day.”
The light went off for her. After that, anytime she started doing something that would inevitably land us at the nearest hospital, I would ask her, “What’s Mommy’s #1 job?” Miracle, upon miracles, she would, albeit dejectedly, cease and desist the current path of destruction. I realized that’s all I have to say to her. Nothing more. No tears, no crying, no asking, “But why CAN’T I use the couch to play American Ninja Warrior?!?!”
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to really understand why this worked so well. To be honest, I think it’s because I’m not sure that she truly understood how important she was to me until that moment. Even though she was showered with love and attention, for her to hear that her safety is my absolute #1 job, made her feel truly and deeply loved. Loved beyond words and hugs, loved to the part of her soul that craves parental protection.
I also think this works so well because I’ve created a source for the direction of her anger that isn’t me…I’m just doing my job, my #1 job in fact. It also closes the room for interpretation or negotiation. It’s not my CHOICE to not let her do it. It’s my JOB.
It also works because it changes her state of mind. She’s primed to be defensive because, let’s face it, she already knows she’s not supposed to be doing whatever it is before she even starts. So, when I engage, she’s ready to be defensive. By asking her a question instead of just saying “No,” or “Get Down,” her brain focuses on finding the answer to the question and off of defensiveness. Since the answer to the question makes her happy to her core, it changes her state entirely.
It also reinforces to me that I’ve made the right decision in the moment. As parents, we have a thousand decisions to make every day. Reminding myself that keeping her safe IS my #1 job allows me to feel good about how I handled it, even if it’s not the answer that would lead to her short-term happiness.
Almost three years in, it’s become practically a game. I see the glint in her eye as she’s ready to bound off of some object toward certain doom. I give her a look and ask her calmly but firmly, “What’s Mommy’s #1 job?” Now, she pauses, smiles really big, gets down, and runs off to give me gray hair another day…
I’d love for you to try this at home and see if it works for you. You can also try a variation to the question if that’s more applicable to you. Try a few things. Just make sure it’s a short question that gets them thinking. Don’t give up if it takes a few times to produce a behavior change. Once they’re familiar with the response it becomes a game, and that’s when the real change happens.
Don’t miss my next post where I share a special secret with you: what my #2 job is! This one is amazing at reducing the inevitable grocery store meltdown! Now that’s something with which we all could use some help.
Keep raising extraordinary kids,