Coaching Children Through Upset: Lessons from a Purple Crayon

Conscious Discipline® is a lifelong practice and an ongoing journey. I’ve been a Certified Instructor for a decade, and I’m still learning valuable lessons about myself and my interactions with others. Often, these lessons and “ah-ha” moments come in unexpected places—like a conversation with my grandson about his cherished purple crayon. 

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The Purple Crayon

It’s November 2018. I’ve flown to New Jersey to celebrate my grandson’s fourth birthday. I am his Yaya! Aren’t four-year-olds so much fun? It’s always fun to go to my son’s home. I enjoy their company immensely and feel so grateful for what I have in my life. 

So, it’s time for me to return home. My grandson wakes up from his nap and decides he wants to go in the car to take me to the airport. He grabs a handful of crayons to take in the car and off we go. 

We are on the Interstate when my grandson looks at the crayons in his hand and immediately exclaims with great concern, “There’s no purple crayon. Turn the car around. I need the purple crayon.” 

I am sitting in the back seat hoping to just grab the last minutes with him. My son looks at me from the rear-view mirror and nods his head. 

Yaya: “Oh, you were hoping that Daddy could turn the car around so you could get the purple crayon.” 

Grandson: “Yes, turn the car around. I need my purple crayon.” 

Yaya: “Daddy can’t turn the car around. That’s hard to hear, but we have some choices. We can see what colors are in your hand, or you can let me hold the crayons and we can see what colors you do have.” 

Grandson: “No, I want my purple crayon.”

Purple

You Talk Too Much

I believe that this went on for two more rounds and then this thought hit me with full force! I was doing it again: I was trying to talk my grandson out of his upset. It took my breath away. 

I am a Conscious Discipline Certified Instructor, for goodness sake. What am I doing? I am unconsciously doing to my grandson as I had done to my son when he was growing up. I’m immediately reminded of the great Joe Jones song You Talk Too Much, recorded in 1960:

You talk too much, you worry me to death,
You talk too much, you even worry my pet.
You just talk, talk too much.

Thankfully, I have three “ah ha” moments, and I have them before we arrive at the airport. 

I stop talking and simply fill the space between us with love and acceptance. I begin to breathe and believe that he can truly handle this. There is silence in the car. After a few minutes, he stops yelling and crying. WOW! 

I say my goodbyes, rush through security and get to the gate, and reach for my journal. I must write this down. 

Airport Reflections: Internalize the Powers and Skills, Then Coach Children

Dr. Bailey speaks about the internalization of the seven powers and skills of Conscious Discipline and how it can take time, even years, to adopt this new way of thinking and being. I was certified in 2010 and have worked faithfully to internalize these powers and skills. 

Though difficult, this personal mindset shift and skillset upgrade is vital. Not only does your state dictate the state of those around you, but you’re also incapable of teaching to others what you haven’t mastered yourself. This is why in moments of upset, we must look at ourselves and our own state before we begin coaching the child.

So, here are my three “ah ha” moments inspired by that missing purple crayon. I hope my reflections help you in your journey of internalizing the powers and skills. You’ll see that they are related. 

1. We can’t shield children from upset and disappointment.
It is just plain hard to see your own children with big emotions. Then add your grandchildren into the mix? Wow, is all I can say! Rushing in to shield children from their big emotions is instinctual. But if we choose this path, then we rob our children and grandchildren of the opportunity to learn how to manage themselves and self-regulate in hard times. If we choose this path, we make the moment about us and miss the opportunity to coach the child with whatever feeling they are experiencing. 

I’ve learned the hard way that my grandson can truly handle the small disappointments, which leads to handling the big disappointments that are part of everyday life. It’s still challenging, but that’s a win for sure. 

2. Breathe and set your intention before you start talking.
I’m talking too much when children are in their survival or emotional state. Let’s just keep it real. I used to believe I could talk them out of that feeling and “happy them up.” And I quickly and unconsciously slipped into my old habits with my grandson. Fortunately, I recovered before I said goodbye to my sweet family. 

This “ah ha” moment has served me well as I have coached in early childhood classrooms. I am a brain detective now. I access what brain state the child is in, take a deep breath for me, and then pick the right tool that will help the child regulate. Noticing is imperative, empathy a must and choices are necessary. Then I stop talking and simply fill the space between the two of us with love and acceptance. My face is soft, and my eyes are filled with love. My intention is to be helpful by supporting and teaching the child. I connect with that child and trust myself to recognize when I should talk again. 

3. Believe in your abilities.
Lastly, I’ve learned to believe in myself and my ability to truly be present with a child that is in distress. This last “ah ha” has hit me hard and has been so beneficial in my trainings and coaching. This is not a strategy; it’s a belief! This comes from your inner being. It is truly how you live your life. We must allow the child to sit with the feeling and believe that with support from a loving and kind adult, the upset will end. It is sort of like the weather: It comes and goes.

Final Thoughts: A New Tune

In the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Fred Rogers wisely says, “Silence is one of the greatest gifts we have.” 

Sometimes, in our rush to stop the upset by saying the right thing, we forget the importance of silently being present, offering love and acceptance, and allowing children to feel their feelings. We must truly tap into the powers and skills, remain calm and connect. 

Let’s change the tune in our head to another classic song, Let It Be. Listen. Can you feel the difference?

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Yeah, there will be an answer, let it be. 

Feel the difference so you can be the change. It isn’t easy, but you can do it! Like me, you’re sure to receive lots of reminders along the way—maybe even in the form of a purple crayon. 

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