Why You Should Never Utter the Phrase ‘No Big Deal’ Again
Do you like things (music, food, places etc.) just because a bunch of people told you you should? I sure as heck don’t. OK, maybe when I was a teenager and trying to fit in – but this statement is a perfect example of my lack of self-confidence at that age to be honest with my feelings. A skill I really didn’t master until my mid-to-late 20’s.
When therapy first started the team used the phrase ‘no big deal’ a lot when MJ started getting upset about things (like using a red cup instead of a blue cup). They encouraged us to do the same at home for consistency. One day, MJ broke down and sobbed and said, “But it IS a big deal to me Mommy.”
I felt terrible. She was right. By using that phrase, I was telling her her feelings didn’t matter and that she was wrong. I immediately stopped the use of the phrase and advised our team to never utter it again in her presence. I think they thought I was going a bit over board, but for me, it was a breakthrough. It was the first time MJ told me how she felt about the way we were treating her fears and rigidities and that was a big deal.
In the months leading up to school, the majority of adults in MJ’s life began telling her how school was fun, exciting and great. To MJ, the prospect of school with all the changes in routine, noise and people terrified her. Instead of jumping on the “you’ll love school band wagon,” my husband and I told her our own stories and fears that we had when we were in school, including the parts of school we liked and didn’t like. She relaxed a little and began playing out her fears with us in elaborate set ups with imaginary friends. We worked through many of them, something I don’t think we’d been able to do if we’d just told her how much she was going to love it.
Two days in with just two hours of school each day and she is still not excited. Yesterday she bit, hit, kicked and punched me, something she hasn’t done in months. We’ve had a lot of tears, a need for utter control over everything and it honestly has not been sunshine and roses in our house.
I asked MJ this morning if she had tips for the Monkey who was starting his staggered entry today and she responded to me in a very monotone voice: “School is exciting and fun. You’ll meet lots of great people and make lots of friends. School is great.” I looked at her and said, “Thank you for telling me what everyone else has told you about school, but now tell me what you really think.” Her shoulders eased and she looked at me and said “School is not exciting or fun, it’s loud and there are a lot of people and I don’t like it.”
I thanked her again and told her that I was proud of her for being honest. And it struck me that although we tell our kids honesty is the best policy, that we don’t always mean it. MJ in her desire to please was giving me the stock answer she thought I and every adult who asks wants to hear. Not what is truly in her heart.
For some, school will never be exciting or fun, and that is OK. Maybe she will grow to like school, and maybe she will do well, but for now, school is not a place she likes and you know what? That is OK, and she needs to know it is OK and be taught to have confidence in her opinions. I’m not saying she doesn’t have to do it, we all do things we don’t like, that’s life.
My firm belief is that she’s entitled to her very own opinion and she should be confident to feel however she wants to feel, not how others think she should feel. It’s how she learns to cope and deal with those feelings that will help her later in life.
So the next time you are talking about something to a child in your life, I encourage you to choose your words carefully. Instead of generalizing to say the entire concept of something is fun, exciting (or really any adjective), stop for a second and make it personal.
It’s OK to share your opinions and that you or someone you know liked (or didn’t like) something, in fact, it’s great to share experiences, that’s the basic premise of modeling which is used extensively in ABA therapy. Just don’t forget to teach them it’s OK to not have the same opinion or feelings as you or someone else they know. Allow them to be honest and confident in their feelings, even if you don’t agree or understand them.
Hoping one day school will get easier,