Every day, I drive 56 km from our home to my daughter’s school in the city. It usually takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. On some days when road accidents or repairs obstruct the smooth flow of traffic, the lines of vehicles get longer and longer, and the crawl of traffic becomes unbearably slow or seemingly a standstill. Drivers and passengers get agitated and stressed because nobody likes to be late.
My 10-year-old is a classic case of work-yourself-up-to-a-frenzy type. At her school, latecomers have to report to the School Office and are assigned to school community tasks, e.g. cleaning the lunch table. Yesterday, we were 10 minutes late leaving the house and traffic buildup was evident 2 km into the journey. I could feel EJ’s tension build as she asked repeatedly, “Will I get to school on time?” and talked about how her classmates would tease her and her “punishment.” My usual assurances were not working on her and there was no other way to school except through the traffic mass.
“Hey Em, don’t you think this traffic jam is cute?” Huh?
“What do you think God sees when He looks down? He must be so amused that people queue in little boxes on wheels like ants in a line every morning …” Yep 🙂 that caught her imagination, and soon she was happily telling her versions of how human behavior might appear to other creatures. We arrived at school in time and she was chirpy.
Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte in The Resilience Factor show readers how to deal with thinking traps when faced with adversity, using the ABCDE technique:
- First, identify the Adversity or Antecedent event, and
- Our Beliefs about
- The likely unpleasant Consequences.
- Then, we change track – Dispute our Beliefs with evidence of experiences of positive outcomes, alternative ways of dealing with the event, or looking at the event from a different perspective.
- With practice, our Energy levels are boosted as we learn to cope with the tyrannical rampage of negativism in our minds and deal with our world more calmly.
Perhaps humor as an alternative perspective works faster than others. Laughter lifts us and sets into motion the powerful effects of positive emotions, as shown by the Barbara Fredrickson group.
Reivich, K, & Shatt?, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.
One of our professors – I’m pretty sure Barry Schwartz – said that reframing is the most important concept in psychology. Nice reframing, Sulynn!
It also takes a creative, resilient, and sharp mother to be looking for ways her daughter can see the situation differently. To me, that is positive psychology at work, not just psychology. You asked “how can she see this situation in a new and creative/positive way… not simply a different and neutral way.” …an educated mother putting positive psychology into practice. 🙂
Wht a good demonstration of the power of humor and reframing! Mark Twain said, “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
But how many of us remember this whenever we are in face of pressure or unhappiness? Thanks for your reminder which puts wisdom to practice.
Sulynn, I could just picture you and Emma Jane stuck in traffic and having this conversation. I loved how you engaged her in a reframing conversation that melted away her stress. It seems kids are stressed enough these days without school administrators adding on even more with their policies. Maybe they need a little PP coaching –shifting the paradigm to rewarding kids with perfect attendance versus “punishing” those who do not. Sending you both a BIG HUG, Margaret
Thanks for a great example of how to focus on the present (in a fun and engaging way), and avoid worrying about things beyond our control (that may never happen)! Your humorous reframing helped Emma Jane experience positive emotion! Thanks for your article; I enjoyed it!