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Too Sensitive or Analytical: How We Make Decisions

Coaching Your Thinking Child
While every individual is unique, there are some common strategies that can help you stay connected to your thinking child and avoid power struggles.

1. Deal with the Facts First
It's the thinking types who tend to stand back from a situation, look at the facts, take an objective view of the situation, and come up with solution. Their decisions are guided by logic. The image that comes to my mind is that of a cat approaching a puddle. When a cat approaches a puddle, it prowls the edges, slapping the surface with one paw, testing, jumping back, pulling away. It's edgy, wary of jumping in. When upset, thinking kids like to step away from their feelings, which means they sometimes may not address the feelings that are truly fueling the problem. That's what happened to Ben.

He was a thinker who wanted to win a place on the student council. But that day at school he'd overheard other kids saying they were going to vote for Nathan. Frustrated and scared, his anxiety rose. He didn't want to lose! But even more than that, he didn't want to cry, nor did he want to admit his feelings of vulnerability. By the time he got home a volcano was brewing inside of him. His mother noticed it and tried to offer him a hug, but he pushed away from her. When his brother wouldn't give him a turn shooting the basketball, he attacked. His mother had to pull him off his brother and send him into the shower to cool off. An hour later, as she sat by him in his room, she asked him why he'd been so upset, but he couldn't tell her. She tried once again to offer him a hug, but he pushed her away. Frustrated, she started to reprimand him. How could she help him if he wouldn't let her? Then suddenly she remembered the discussions in class about thinkers and feelers, and realized that her son was responding as a thinker. Immediately she switched tactics and said, "Tell me what happened." Ben started describing the conversations he'd overheard at school. "I want to win!" he declared. "Nathan's giving out suckers and all the kids are saying they'll vote for him. It isn't fair."

It's the thinking child who covers her ears and turns away from you when you try to talk feelings with her, especially if she also prefers introversion. In fact, if you attempt to give her a hug or discuss the feelings when her intensity is high, she may strike out at you either with her fists or with words. She doesn't want to go into those feelings at first. She prefers to stand back and look at the situation more logically. If your child rejects your overtures of sympathy, simply say, "Tell me what happened." If that doesn't work, try asking questions: "Did someone say something you didn't like?" Or, "Was something unfair?" Stick to the facts, even if your first inclination is to teach her about feelings and relationships with others. Later you can deal with the emotions and teach her that it's not all right to attack others when she's frustrated or scared.

2. Let Them Feel Competent
When Kim saved her five-year-old son from being hit by a swing, instead of being grateful, he demanded to know why she had done it. In fact, he pulled away from her warm hug and walked back past the swing! "If I hadn't known he was a thinker," she said, "I would have been furious, but I realized he hates to look incompetent and by 'saving him,' when other kids were watching, I'd embarrassed him. He had to prove that he could handle it."

Thinking kids do not want to feel incompetent. They highly value achievement and as a result are often their own toughest critic. That's why criticism given after a situation upsets them deeply. They hate to review their mistakes. When you try to discipline them or practice a different response with them, they may tell you that you are the meanest parent in the world, refuse to listen, or explain in detail why the actions were correct.

In order to keep them working with you, set goals before they start a activity. For example, you might say, "You're running for student council. Here's the plan. If you win, it's important that you be courteous to the losers and tell them that they ran a good race. If you lose, you need to congratulate the winner. When you come home, if you're feeling badly, you can go for a run or take a break in your room, but you can't come home and yell at us."

If you do need to review a situation, you might say, "What happened today can't happen again. Let's talk about what we can do different next time." Then focus on setting up a plan for the future! Avoid dwelling on past mistakes or you will lose your thinking child.

And don't forget to validate her competence. When Helen returned from a walk with her neighbor, she found her nine-year-old daughter, Janey, crying and screaming hysterically at several neighborhood children. The other kids were arguing that Janey had pushed another child into the water. Janey was screaming, "No, I didn't. I didn't do anything wrong. This isn't fair!" Helen recognized a thinking kid in action. "I realized that Janey would argue to the death," she said. "I was afraid she'd end up alienating, the entire neighborhood, so I dragged her into the house away from the commotion. I wanted to talk with her about the importance of getting along with others, but I knew if I started there she just get more upset. I remembered how important it is for her to feel competent, so to calm her I said, 'You're someone who really values truth. That's such a great quality, an important characteristic. You have the courage to stand up for what you believe. The world needs people like you.' She calmed down immediately, and I knew that later I could teach her that maybe next time instead of shouting 'That's not true!' she might say, 'I'm sorry if you thought I pushed you; I never intended to.' Or, 'That's not the way I saw it, but I'm sorry if you did.'"

When you're working with your thinking child, make your comments specific. General praise is suspect to her. She wants to know specifically what you like or what she has done well. Comments like "Great idea" or "You jumped one hundred times" mean much more to this child than "Super!"

Thinking kids need direct coaching when it comes to identifying and acknowledging feelings, especially those that make them feel vulnerable. Admitting that they made a mistake or apologizing takes a great deal of effort. You'll have to teach them how important it is to do so and then help them to do it.

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From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.


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