4W’s: watch, wait, wonder, “one-down”

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting


I’ve been playing with a new idea when emotions get high…the 4W’s.  It can be used as a way of remembering what to do when you are feeling provoked, and you want to be helpful and not take the problem personally.

  1. Watch: try to step out of the situation and see the big picture. You are less likely to react as an observer.  
  2. Wait: don’t immediately react, the longer (as reasonable) the better. You are less likely to react the longer the time between being provoked and your response.
  3. Wonder: this is the beginning of wisdom, and something your child is definitely not doing if they are provoking you.  If you are wondering, I can guarantee that you are not reacting, and therefore not taking on their issue as your own problem
  4. “One-down”: your child is trying to “one-up” you and take control by being provocative.  If you go “one-up” in response by defending yourself or going back at them, most likely they will respond by going “one-up” again themselves.   Both of you will likely continue to “one-up” each other, raising the emotional and combative level.  The alternative of this is that when your child goes “one-up”, that you respond by going “one-down”.  If you don’t defend yourself or enter into their combative interaction, they have nothing against which to continue to escalate their emotion.  

Going “one-down” does not come naturally.  If someone provokes you, the most natural response is to defend yourself.  Going “one-down” can feel like losing or submitting.  This is where being confident that you are good enough is so important; if you believe you are, then you won’t need to defend yourself.  Whatever is thrown at you, you listen to it, and then gently but firmly put it back on them.  It is usually a complaint, “so when we are calm lets talk and work it out”.  Below I have written a couple of examples of “one-up and “one-down” for those interested in how they may look.

“One-up”: you ask your child to take the bins out while they are doing something on their phone.  

They respond by rolling their eyes and ignoring you.

“Hello…did you hear me”

“What do you think I am…deaf.  Of course I heard you”  

“Hey, don’t be rude…I want you to take the bins out now”

“I did it last week” (Angry, complaining)

“Do you want to know what I did last week for you?!”

“Well you can do this too then”

“I can stop doing things for you too you know.  I don’t have to pay for that phone”

“You always threaten the phone when you don’t get your way. Anyway, you don’t always do things for me. You left me waiting for an hour after sport!”

“That was 1 months ago, and it was only 35 minutes”

“Because you were drunk and mum had to do it for you”

“I was not drunk.  I was at a work function that went late”

“You are always late”

“You want to talk about lateness.  What happened Monday morning!  Do you know how late I got to work that day!”

 “You never ask Michael. It’s always me.  You are so unfair”

“I’m unfair?  Is it fair that you don’t do anything around the home?”

“Like you do much.  You just sit around drinking beer”

“What!  You can talk, your fat arse lazing around”

“At least I’m not actually fat like you”

“You little…”

etc

“One-down”: You ask your child to take the bins out while they are doing something on their phone.  

They respond by rolling their eyes and ignoring you.

“Just checking that you heard what I said”

“What do you think I am…deaf.  Of course I heard you”

“OK, great.  So can you take the bins out for me now please”

“I did it last week” (angry, complaining)

“I’m sorry mate.  I didn’t mean to make you angry.  Is there some reason you don’t want to take the bins out for us?”

“I’m busy, and its not fair”.

“Fairness is really important isn’t it.  Hey if you like, lets have a talk about fairness because I don’t want to be unfair.  But first, can you please take the bins out now”

“I told you I was busy”.

“Uh huh. So do we need to talk about fairness right now?”

“I said I was busy”

“Oh. OK.  Umm.  I might be wrong, but to me it looks like you are playing on your phone. Can you tell me what is so important that you can’t take a 2 minute break to help out the family?”

“I’m talking to my friends”

“Great.  Say hi to them for me. But first we need to work out the bins”.

“Why do I always have to do it when you want?!”

“Do you feel like I’m always asking you to do things at the wrong time?”

“Yes”

“That would be really annoying.  Is my asking at the wrong time important enough for us to talk about it? Because if it is a problem, hop off your phone and we can have a chat about what are reasonable expectations of helping and fairness in our family”

“No, no.  We don’t need to talk about it”

“Great.  So take the bins out now please”

“Aaaargh!”

“So this IS really annoying to you. We really do need to talk about this now then, as I don’t want us to get annoyed with each other”. 

“I don’t want to”

“Same.  I don’t really want to either.  But even more I don’t want us to annoy each other.  So I guess you have a choice to make.  Its take the bins out now and this problem is over in 2 minutes, or we turn everything off and work out how to come to agreement about what are reasonable expectations of each other about chores and fairness”

“You don’t always do things straight away.  You left me waiting an hour after sport because you were drunk!”

“I’m really sorry you had to wait that time.  I didn’t realise you were still angry about that.  I thought I explained what happened and we had fixed that.  If you are still angry, I’m really happy to talk to you again about what happened to you and why I was late.  If I had have been drunk as the reason I didn’t pick you up, that would be really bad.  So do we need to talk about that as well, and about fairness and chores?”

“No, no. I’ll just take the bins out”.

“One-up” may work to solve the conflict if you are willing to go that one step further than your child and make sure you win. But it does not help your child to learn how to cooperate and be curious.

“One-down” as part of the 4W’s is more likely to help you do the 4C’s: for you to stay cool, help to calm their reptile, then connect with their mammal, and then converse and fix it with their human.