Monday, January 24, 2011

Postponing worry, resolving conflict

I've been in the process of coming down with a cold. I mean, I have a cold, but since it keeps getting worse I've been waiting to see how far down it's going to come. Yesterday it moved into my chest, and when I coughed it felt like someone had rubbed my trachea with sandpaper. No fever, but still, not good. Especially since Eldest is going back to college later this week, and I very much want her to stay healthy.

Which way will it go? There's nothing worry finds tastier than ambivalence. So when it's not clear whether or not I need to worry, I set myself a check-in time and a next step, and then focus on something else. With my cough, the check-in was this morning: if the cough got worse over night (it didn't), I would go see the doctor. With Eldest, the check-in is en route to Boston on Friday. If she's coming down with crud, the next step will be to remind her that she has Mucinex, buy her a stock of juice, and give clear instructions on when to go to the infirmary.

I find that thinking through an action plan takes the teeth out of worry most of the time. But then I'm big on using if...then types of plans to simplify life. When the kids were little and one started screaming on the subway my rule was If you shout, we get out. It gave me something to do besides get frustrated, and taught the kids quickly that yes, Mom really would let the train drive away from the platform.  (It's fine to be upset, but disturbing others with loud crying is inconsiderate. That has taken some of my kids a looong time to learn!)

The corollary to this is that when I am facing a repeated frustration, it behooves me to think up an  if...then plan. If Little Guy doesn't get his socks and shoes on without repeated reminders, I need to note that we're dealing with a pattern, and that (as proven by ample experimentation) doing more of the same thing louder is not working. Therefore it's time to think through what's going on, and come up with a new approach.

The advantage of thinking through an if...then ahead of time is that it allows me to be way more rational about problem solving than I am when I have to problem-solve on the spot. I can weigh whether a carrot or a stick is more likely to be successful (duh -- the carrot), and I can think through my child's likely responses. I can explain the plan so the child isn't taken by surprise and knows what to expect. And if I take a rational approach to talking about it, e.g., "I've noticed that most of the arguments you and I have been having lately happen when we're trying to leave the house..." the child might eventually learn to recognize patterns to conflict himself.

An now I'm off to think up if...then number 257 for cleaning up after yourself. Wish me luck!

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