what to do when you don't know what to say or do?

Usually you’re 3 steps ahead of your kids, but today, you haven’t had the time, the energy or the wherewithal to plan as much as you would like. Your patience is wearing thin. You hear a squabble and some whining coming from the next room. You ask your child to pick their backpack up off of the floor and are met with cries of indignation. You put dinner on the table and there is an uproar because food is touching or because they “hate broccoli!!!” And on this particular day, you don’t feel angry or frustrated. There are no words of wisdom to impart. You have no patience to create a teaching moment from this fuss.

You just don’t have a response. You’re at a loss for words. Ever had this day?

It takes a lot of energy to be vigilant; making sure that kids are safe and watched, making sure that they’re following the rules, making sure that they’re not hitting each other…too hard. Sometimes encouraging or waiting for the word “please” can seem like a complete waste of time or like another straw that just might break the camel’s back. And on other occasions, we just don’t know what to do. Whatever the reason, we’re tongue tied and most likely discouraged.

I have been faced with many of these paralyzing situations during my years in the classroom. Before I was even aware of what was happening, I would be arguing with a kid and using my own logical paintbrush to paint myself into a corner. How did I get here? I’m trapped! If I’m at a loss for words, should I just say “Because I said so!”? Not knowing how to handle a new, complex or taxing situation can lead to plenty of feelings of inadequacy and just plain panic. We can quickly lose control of ourselves and our immediate environment when struck with this deer-in-the-headlights feeling. Uh…

I’m not going to pass on any advice or thoughts on how to mobilize oneself and return to full parent mode.

What? Not knowing what to do and feeling a little scared as a result is something that every human being has to be at least familiar with (if not comfortable with). There are plenty of opportunities in daily life to make us feel ill-equipped; social situations, professional quandaries, interpersonal conflict. Being at a loss for words or deeds is part of our human experience. Your kids will experience it too, probably as many times as you have.

So if you find yourself with nothing to say, but feeling like you should say something, you have a couple of choices.

#1: Say nothing
#2 Say, “I don’t know what to say.”

Being truthful about what you’re feeling isn’t a crime or a weakness. We want to be superhuman for kids. We want to be the source of power, have access to the knowledge that they need and be their source of love and comfort. These are not impossible goals to achieve, but do not need to be achieved at every moment. There’s always tomorrow or later this afternoon.

Once you’re feeling a little more yourself, you can talk to your child about how you didn’t know what to do. Even if they’re little, they understand feeling uncertain and feeling stressed. Sometimes we just don’t know what to do. That’s ok. It’s ok for you and it’s ok for your kids. Feeling a little lost is sometimes the only way to know when you’re found again. Be easy with yourself and be at a loss for a little while.

You’ll find your way back.