There are a number of terms and expressions that are frequently used in Visible Child circles that I find are frequently misunderstood or misapplied. With this new year, it seemed as good a time as any to offer a few clarifications and tips. And I just really like that word “explications” so I threw that in, too.
So here goes:
This term refers to a heavily traveled blogpost that I wrote some time back, which can be found here.
What some people take away from when they read it:
- Clean up after your kids, and don’t have any expectations that they’ll help.
- If they ask you to help them or do something for them, just do it.
- Don’t teach your children to help or do things for themselves.
- Don’t be a strong leader, just give in when kids refuse to do what you ask them to do.
- Oh, this is a really clever way to “trick” kids into cleaning up or doing what you want, kind of like reverse psychology–I just clean up and then they’re jealous and want to be involved or doing want to be left out and so they help–cool!!
What it really means:
- There is no cleanup job that is worth damaging your connection and relationship with your child. Power struggles damage connection.
- Parenting is, above all, an exercise in trust. Children who feel appreciated and seen are far more likely to help in the future than those who were forced or faced anger or disappointment.
- It’s not only fine, it’s wonderful, to involve children in household tasks. Nearly all children love to help, starting in toddlerhood. Springing it on them when you suddenly decide they “should do chores” and expecting them to be cooperative is not the way to elicit children’s engagement and willingness.
- Children learn by modeling, not by being made to do things. Watching you do what needs to be done without resentment will translate into them doing what needs to be done without resentment.
- It’s always about the long run, not about this day or the spill or the toys. It’s about the relationship and the way in which you are cultivating the values of cooperation, generosity, and altruism over the course of a lifetime. Not every day or instance has to be a lesson.
- Playfulness & confidence always work better than demands and impatience.
- Demonstrate your confident adult leadership by not lowering yourself by engaging in a protracted standoff with your child.
- If you are doing this because it’s a “clever trick” to get your kids to clean up, don’t use this, because you’re missing the point.
- If you are “modeling graciousness” and “waiting for it to work” and wondering and asking “when is it going to kick in?” or “at what age will they start to help?” or “when does the modeling take hold?”, don’t use this approach. Not only is it the antithesis of graciousness, but it makes your use of this strategy conditional and a manipulation on your part, not unconditional generosity and a powerful exercise in trust and letting go of control and outcomes. This is not about pretending to believe in and trust your kids so they’ll do something–it’s about actually believing in and trusting your kids and having absolute confidence that they will emulate your behavior and values, in this own way, at their own time.
While we’re at it, one more clarification. Modeling graciousness is a powerful and transformative tool and lens shift. And it’s not always the answer. If you are modeling graciousness because an article said to or because it’s “what you’re supposed to do”, but inside, you are really frustrated or resentful, you are not modeling graciousness. If on a given day, you can’t be authentically gracious about it, don’t do it. Come back to it when you’re ready.
DROP THE ROPE
This oft used expression refers to the way in which we get into an emotional “tug of war” with our children over a limit or boundary we are intent on setting. A “tug of war” is when, either literally or metaphorically, we are locked in some version of a “Yes you will, no I won’t” dynamic with a child. These three words remind us that such a game, when between an adult and a child, is both counterproductive and a bit absurd. If you’d like to learn more, I made a video blog about it, which you can view here.
What some people think it means:
- Don’t have limits. Just let your kids do what they want because you should never hold strongly to your end of the “rope.”
- “Drop the rope” means “drop that limit.” If your child is very upset when you turn off the TV, and someone tells you to “drop the rope”, it means just don’t turn off the TV, so that they won’t get upset and you won’t have to deal with their tantrums.
- Give up.
What it really means:
- Choose your boundaries and limits thoughtfully. When they are consistently and persistently causing significant battles, examine why this is an important boundary to you. That does not mean that boundary or limit should be dropped or is inappropriate–it very well may be a good one. But something is not working, and it’s worth examining and exploring what that might be. The result might be that you change some of your limits or boundaries that you thought were important. The result might be that you change the way that you communicate or hold that boundary or how you set it up to work, rather than changing or letting go of it. The result might be that you don’t do anything different, but remain confident and commit to wading through the difficult parts until it takes hold.
- So, sometimes “drop the rope” does indeed mean to drop that limit or boundary. And sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all about awareness and intention and conscious decision making. How important is it?
- The heart of “drop the rope” is not at all about dropping limits or expectations, but rather, it is about letting go of our emotional investment and fears so that we can hold those limits without getting into an emotional tug of war with our children. Tug of war games are always emotional, not logical. The limit can be logical and firmly held without an emotional tug of war.
- Here’s the difference between holding a limit and dropping the rope:
- Scenario: 3 year old looks you square in the eye and smiles and pours their milk on the floor.
- We feel like they are saying “What are you going to do about it?” (and we’re right!). At that point, we have many options, especially if we pause to review them.
- We can explode (“What the hell are you doing??” “Wipe that smile off your face!”), which is the “standard authoritarian response” or possibly an “automatic” or reflexive response. The only thing this teaches our children is that their parents do not possess mature emotional regulation.
- We can say “You spilled it, you clean it up.” They refuse. We can then say “I’ll go get you a sponge and cloth and I expect you to clean it up.” They refuse. We can then say (even calmly!) “We’re staying in this room until you clean it up.” They refuse. You spend the next two hours sitting in that room with them until they finally clean it up. This is the ultimate tug of war, or if you prefer, battle of wills. You want to show them you’re in charge, I get it. What do children learn from this? They learn that they can keep you in a room for 2 hours. They learn that you are not a strong confident leader because for a standoff between and adult and a 3 year old isn’t really a thing, as adults are bigger, stronger, and smarter, and adults always win anyway. They learn that for two hours at a shot, they have absolutely equal power to you (because two people who are pulling on a rope for two hours are obviously of equal strength.)
- We can say “I’d like your help cleaning that up.” They refuse. We can say “I’d really like your help to clean it up, so I’m going to leave it for now, and let me know when you’re ready to help.” This is still holding the boundary of them helping clean up their spill, but without the big emotional investment. This is one way to “drop the rope” (if it’s that important to you that they help clean it up.”
- We can use playfulness or collaboration or companionship to engage them in cleaning it up, without engaging in a power struggle. We can go get two mops–an adult sized one and a child sized one, and say “Let’s do this together!” and sing a mopping song while you do it, taking all of the power and emotion out of the task (and it still gets cleaned up and they helped.)
- We can “model graciousness” (see the first item above) and still communicate our desire, expectation, and confidence that this is something they will help with while not letting a spill derail our day. “I’m going to clean this up so the floor doesn’t get sticky and so your brother doesn’t get into it. I’d love it if you’d help me.” They refuse. We just proceed to clean it up, no emotional engagement in their refusal, and we add a confident “You’re having a tough day, I know you’ll help next time, you’re usually a very generous and helpful person!”
- And there are surely more options. The decision to be made is whether you wish to engage in an emotional power struggle with your child. “Dropping the rope” can look many different ways, but at it’s core, it’s about holding the limits and boundaries that are necessary with confidence and compassion, and without emotional power struggles, in order to model healthy and mature emotional regulation for a child who neurobiologically is not actually supposed to have that yet.
If you still have questions about how to apply these approaches or remain confused about what they mean and what they do not, leave your questions in the comments section below, or ask in my online groups!
Next edition of Clarifications and Explications (Part 2!) coming up soon. Taking on the controversial stuff, clarifying what the Visible Child perspective is on “attachment” and “sleep training” – lots of misunderstandings and misrepresentations to clear up there! Are there other terms or jargon or stances that you’re a little confused about? Put them in the comments below and I’ll consider them for another in the series!