There are life lessons that come to us when we least expect them.
It’s Tuesday morning, my wife left early for a business engagement, and I am on daddy duties.
It’s just after 7am and I am helping my daughter with her bathroom routine. Unfortunately all of this is happening while she is crying uncontrollably. She misses mummy.
I tell her, “You are with daddy now. We’re going to have fun.”
“No”, she answers between sobs.
I probe further, “Do you enjoy being with daddy?”
“No daddy… I prefer mummy!”
This was one of those moments that pushes you to face truths you’d rather avoid.
I won’t hide that my first reaction was one of hurt. Something like, “How could you say that? I give you so much love, care and attention…” is what likely popped into my head.
You know, regardless of our age, we all carry a child version of ourselves. That child is mainly interested in answering two questions: “Am I lovable?” and “Am I good for something?”
In that short sentence, my daughter managed to tell the child within me that he was not lovable and good for nothing.
Thankfully, over the years I learnt to recognise when this happens and a split second later I was back to being the loving, caring father that I usually am.
I am telling you this story because I have often seen the little child show up in boardrooms and between partners. As you can imagine, the outcomes are seldom constructive.
I have had the privilege of attending many executive meetings where important, global decisions are made. I still remember the first time I attended many years ago.
I imagined this meeting to be above and beyond anything I had ever attended. I imagined the senior executives who ringed the table to be superior beings with super-human capabilities.
Imagine my surprise when I witnessed the equivalent of a playground fight.
I have attended many meetings since and, thankfully, only in a few occasions the children came out to play (or fight as the case might be).
For many of us it is so easy to respond to something a partner does by feeling exactly like when we were children.
Maybe the particular incident reminds us of our parent scolding us for not complying to some household rule. Or maybe we are desperate to ask for something we need, and the only way we know how to is to throw a tantrum.
Whether at work or in our private lives, we all have moments when the child within is the one reacting, when the adult is the one that is actually required.
The child within is a wonderful part of us that will never abandon us, and that will always require some level of attention. Caring and looking after the child within helps us integrate ourselves into fuller human beings.
The problem, as illustrated by the two simple examples above, occurs when the child “comes out to play” at the inappropriate time and place. There are infinite reasons why this happens, and equally there are infinite possible solutions.
Acknowledging that the child within is still alive and in need of attention, is one of the first steps into learning how to manage it.
Another useful skill is to learn to express our needs in a healthy, adult manner.
One widely used formula is the “I” statement; a sentence structure designed to express one’s needs assertively and respectfully.
There are various forms of it; I like to use this one:
When I [describe the situation you are responding to]…
I feel [describe the impact of that behaviour]...
Because [describe the need that is not met]...
I would like [describe the behaviour that would meet your need]
“When I am shouted at
I feel unappreciated and hurt
Because it makes me feel like I am being treated as a child
I would like not to be spoken to in that way”
Celebrate the child within and do give it time and space to “come out to play”, be conscious, however, of those times when it hijacks the situation and sabotages the outcomes.
If you want to deepen your assertiveness skills, you can contact me.
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