I learned it from Kidpower, this kick ass group that taught our preschool about safety and strangers. (The reason Kidpower kicks ass is because they teach a whole boat-load of potentially freaky stuff in the spirit of personal power and curiosity, not fear.)
Our Kidpower trainer did it first. This very together woman with a very together haircut and strong, easy voice walked us through the classic scenarios. “You’re in a busy shop and you look up and can’t find your grown up anywhere…” Then she’d pluck a proud volunteer kid from the audience and show us all how to practice:
I’m pretending to be the lady at the cash register, and this is a time when interrupting is okay. Now put your hand on my arm right here to get my attention. Yep. Make it a firm pancake hand so I’ll notice you, and then with your strong voice say “I need help.”
The kid flopped out a nervous “i need help.”
Try again with your loud power voice like this, “I Need Help.”
“I NEED HELP!”
Great. That was perfect. Now look in my eyes and say, “I’m lost. I can’t find my grownup.”
And so it went with how to handle angry stranger kids at the playground to the pot boiling over on the stove while mom showers to a stranger delivering flowers at the front door when the babysitter is in the backyard.
That evening training was a long time ago. But something stuck with me about that self-assured gal with her self-assured hair confidently scripting our kids to safety over and over and over.
I revived her genius scripting move one afternoon when, for the 400th time, Jo had knocked Cal down or bonked him or grabbed a car out of his hands. Cal either screamed or cried or hulked out and started throwing his potty at the wall. And Jo just walked on, fiddled with the car and pretended like nothing happened.
Jo, get down low so Cal can see your face and put your arm gently on his shoulder like this and say “I’m sorry Cal. I didn’t see you there. Are you alright?”
And I’ll be damned if my big ol’ too-proud, easily embarrassed 5-year-old didn’t parrot my every little move, from the gentle hand to the kind tone of the question at the end. And Cal listened, said “Yeah.” and picked himself up.
And the band played on.
This discovery really killed me, because it stripped away my own judgement about Jo and how emotionally brutish and stunted he can seem sometimes. Underneath that stonewall is a kid who literally doesn’t know how to respond. A kid worried that he messed up, a kid confused by his little brother’s emotional toddler storm.
The thing that slays me, every time he echoes my script, is how trusting and vulnerable he has to be every time he accepts my instruction. Every time he repeats my words, and bends his wiry knees to get his face down next to Cal’s, he’s basically saying, “I totally trust you not to make me look like an idiot, Mom.” and “I have no idea what to do, so I’ll take the risk of doing something weird and new, Mom.”
It makes my tummy all jiggly just to think about it. My steely, ninja-warrior son. A sweet little wide-eyed baby bird.
So I’ve been scripting him all over the place. And he just keeps parroting me without any resistance in the world. It still shocks me, since Jo shuts down or revolts at the slightest hint of shame or anger. But the scripting has no judgement. It’s just like handing him a wrench in a moment when he needs one and saying, here’s how you fit it to the bolt. Now grab on here, and turn it this way.
Bless his sweet cotton socks.
My kid is letting me teach him.