Framing

If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.
—Mary Engelbreit, artist

When we at talk about “framing,” it has nothing to do with scrapbooking, portrait sittings, and glossy or matte finishes. Rather, we mean emphasizing the positive in your parenting. While this may seem obvious, it isn’t always intuitive and isn’t the cultural norm of the moment. See the ideas and examples below to get a better idea of what we mean.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Reframing challenges as “games” can make them a bit easier and perhaps even amusing. If a child resists taking medicine, for example, pretend that the spoon is a car getting ready to park in the garage (your child’s mouth); if he or she doesn’t like being buckled into a car seat, pretend you are strapping yourselves into a spacecraft about to be launched.
    • When children try to get our attention to show us something they’ve done, our tendency is to praise or evaluate (“Good job; can you do it faster this time?”). This can actually dampen their spirits over time if they begin to crave external positive reinforcement. You can frame your response so as to share in their excitement (“I see; that looks fun!), and actually help your child develop internal motivation and confidence.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Many kids accumulate treasures. They’ll save the gift bag from a party months earlier, a rock painted at camp, a broken toy racecar they no longer use. Instead of encouraging them to get rid of the “junk,” try something like, “I know many of these things have been important to you. But now that there are so many, it’s difficult to find the ones that really matter. Let’s go through them together and pick out what you want to save. We’ll put the others in a bag for one month. If you don’t miss them, we can give them to someone who doesn’t have as much as you do.” This honors a child’s attachment to meaningful items and eases the separation, while making the point that they simply cannot keep everything.
    • When talking with your children about family rules, emphasize the positive: “Rules help you stay safe and healthy, show respect for others, and develop important skills.” Compare this approach with negative framing: “Rules are so you don’t get hurt,” “That’s just how it is,” or “We have rules because you don’t listen well.”
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Teach your children to frame questions and concerns in ways that allow for solutions. If your daughter says everyone is being mean to her, ask her for specifics: Does she feel that good friends are letting her down? Do certain people seem to pick on her and others? Is she having trouble with teachers? By framing the concern in narrower, more detailed terms, she can begin to see that she can make word choices that help change the situation.
    • Don’t judge the first words out of their mouths. When preteens or teens assert independence by arguing or being defiant, it’s bound to feel like a power struggle. Try to remember that this is part of growing up. Return a bit later to their comments and have them think about how their values change as they grow and gain experience. Sometimes they’ve said something in haste that isn’t a fully formed idea.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Take joy in the fact that your teens can see beyond absolutes. Then remember this when they try to talk their way into or out of “grey” situations. Be clear about your boundaries for them, and be willing to listen to what they have to say, renegotiating as they demonstrate increasing self-reliance and healthy decision-making
  • List the things you’re proud of as a parent. Include things you like about your kids, yourself, your family situation, challenges you’ve faced or are facing with courage, and anything else that makes you feel good about being a mom or dad. Then put the list away, and pull it out later whenever you need a parenting boost.

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