the reframe

In family systems theory, there is a concept that I really like called reframing. Basically, it means to take a situation and encourage someone to "see it in another frame", usually adding a more positive context to the scenario. Because I enjoy using my kids as psychological experiments putting my psych training to work as a parent, I tend to do a lot of reframing with my kids. If you are a parent, you are probably already doing it, and just didn't know there was a fancy technical name for it.

(And that's why I'm here. To teach you psychological terminology to justify manipulating your children. You're welcome.)

When your kids are sad that dad has to work late, so you put them in pj's early, pop popcorn, and call it a special "movie night", that's a reframe. When you put kale and spinach juice into a Starbucks coffee cup with a lid and call it "kid coffee", that's a reframe. When you tell your son that Superman has eczema, too, and always sits really still while his mom applies the Aquafor, that's a reframe.

Okay, that last one is just plain lying. Effective, but lying.

We had some serious reframing going on today. Jafta tends to be a bit reluctant to leave the comfort of home, even for things that he really would enjoy. He loves spending the night at grandma's, or with his cousin, but lately he has been turning down those opportunities because he just wants to stay home with us. I know that if he would go, he would forget all about us and have a great time. He always does. But he just has this anxiety that is getting in the way of something that could be incredibly fun. And boy, do I understand that last sentence more than I would like to admit.

Aunt Sarah invited him for a sleepover last night with his cousin Tanner. I knew he would have a blast, but it's been a really long time since he has been willing to spend the night out. I knew I needed to think of some ways to get him excited about it, and lower his anxiety.

First, I talked about him going to a "slumber party". (And I didn't use air quotes when I said that). Now really, this was just going to be a sleepover between two preschool-aged children, but when you ad the word party, it makes it sound fun! Exciting! Woo-hoo!! WHO DOESN'T LOVE A SLUMBER PARTY!?!

I'm kind of like the "hype man" at a rap show. I'm just keeping everybody energized.

Then I pulled out the suitcase we bought him a while ago, which was entirely too big for one night out but I knew he would be stoked to use it. He asks to use this suitcase any time we go on a trip but we usually pack his stuff in a more practical suitcase that will fit his sister's stuff, too. He was pretty jazzed to get to use his own suitcase.

I also enlisted his help in packing. We talked through everything. I let him pick his clothes and pj's, and we talked through what the night would be like at Sarah's. I let him choose a favorite toy to go with him.

I could tell he was getting legitimately excited. There was only a brief falter, just before his nap, when he said that he thought maybe he should stay home. I reminded him how much fun he would have at his slumber party. With his suitcase. With the clothes he packed by himself.

And you know what? That reframe worked. When Sarah came to get him, he grabbed that suitcase, beelined for the door, and barely looked back. Until I followed him out there with a camera and made him turn around, because I was so proud of how brave he was being. And also proud of myself for the mommy spin-doctoring that lead to him having a great time.


  1. Nicely done! I love your "reframing" tips. They would have been helpful to my mom back in the day as I had a bit of a problem opposite to Jafta's in that I would be totally excited to go stay the night at a friend's house. Inevitably, however, I would end up calling my mom from said friend's house, crying and begging her to come pick me up because I missed home. My mom was more of an enabler than a re-framer.

  2. i must sit at your feet and learn of your ways (manipulation). :0)

  3. Ah, Kristen, I love reframing. :-D My B.S. is in psychology. I don't have kids yet, but I practice this with little cousins, etc. Works like a charm. ;-)

  4. As annoying as it may be, it is a lovely thing when our young children feel so safe and cared for they prefer home to adventure. I was that way as a kid (and I'm not adopted). Popcorn? Jammies? Mommy and Dad? It's all good.

  5. Jafta did so much better than Tanner!! Tanner was way TOO excited for the slumber P-A-R-T-Y. I should have re-framed so that Tanner could calm down a little bit. :) We will do it again when I catch up on my sleep.


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