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  • Writer's pictureDr. Rachel Kramer

October 4: The Power of a Re-Do

A topic on my mind this week is the power of a re-do. Sometimes when parents and children have heightened emotions someone says something extreme (“I hate you”), unkind (“You’re the worst parent,” or “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”), or overly general in a very negative way (“You drive me crazy”). Many adults and children have had the experience of saying something extreme in a moment of heightened emotion and then instantly regretting saying those words.

If a stressful moment like this occurs when you are talking with your child, it can often be helpful to offer the opportunity for a do-over. Offering the chance to try again helps all family members acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and reminds both adults and children that, even in moments when someone has made an error, the love and connection between family members will always be present. If your child or teen has said something extreme, hurtful, or disrespectful, you might say:

  • “Ouch, that comment hurt. Can you think of a way to re-state your position without being hurtful? I’ll give you a moment to re-group.”

  • “What you just said was disrespectful. Let’s pause for a minute so you can find some different words.”

  • “That was unkind. I’d like you to try again.”

Here are some similar scripts for a moment when you’ve said something you regret:

  • “The way I said that was unkind. I’m sorry. Let me try again.”

  • “Yikes – that didn’t go very well. I’d like to start over.”

  • “Wow this is an intense moment. Let’s pause for a moment then I think we need a do-over.”

Often when children say something unkind they are using extreme words to express a challenging emotion. In order to support the development of emotional literacy, parents can help children by pointing out the feeling underlying a negative comment. With young children, you can call out the disrespectful comment and make a suggestion about how they can re-phrase, particularly focusing on the emotion behind what was said:

  • “It’s hurtful to say, ‘I hate you.’ It sounds like you’re feeling angry with me. You can say, ‘I’m so mad at you.’”

  • “It’s disrespectful to say ‘shut up’. Let’s try not to use hurting words. You could say, ‘I’m so frustrated right now!’”

  • “I looks like you’re having some really big feelings. Calling me ‘stupid’ was mean. You can tell me, ‘I’m mad. I don’t like that plan.’”

In my practice, I often work with children and families to help develop the skill of flexibility. Offering a do-over is one way to model being flexible. By using language to define that this is what you are doing, you can highlight the fact that flexibility is valued in your family:

  • “I think we need to be flexible and take a pause right now. Let’s start over in a couple of minutes.”

  • “Yikes – it feels like we’re stuck in a tricky moment. Let’s see if we can both be flexible. We can re-group in a minute or two and try again.”

In an intense moment, sometimes people get overwhelmed by strong emotions and say things they don’t mean or fail to choose their words - or their tone - carefully. We want children and adolescents (and adults) to understand that their families do not require or expect perfection and that everyone is vulnerable to making this type of mistake. Nobody – parent or child – is going to have the exact right response at the exact right time every single time there is a conflict. If you find yourself in a situation like this, I encourage you to acknowledge the moment, give each other grace, and try again.

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