There’s a story about Queen Elizabeth, who, after a long day of travel with her late husband, Prince Philip, found him worked up and in an argument. Almost like he was a child, the Queen saved him from himself by catching his attention and pointing to a display in front of them. “Look at the pottery,” she said calmly and slowly. Shaken out of his fit, Philip stopped to look, and in that brief respite found the time to bring himself back to a state of royal dignity. Later, a politician who had overheard the exchange would walk over to the scene where it had occurred. He was only half surprised to find there had never been any pottery at all.
Every parent has witnessed the power of this kind of empathic sleight of hand—whether your kid was throwing a tantrum about cereal or crying from a skinned knee. Distraction is a wonderful medicine. It breaks a person out of their spiral. It snaps them out of their fit. It gives them a chance to gather themselves and reevaluate. Look over there, we say, and they do. Listen to this funny sound, and suddenly they’re laughing.
Mr. Rogers has a great song about this. When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong—he sings—stop and think of this song. You, as a parent, have the opportunity to be the living embodiment of that song, because no one likes who they are when they’re out of control. Whether you’re dealing with a defiant teenager or a hangry toddler (or a frustrated spouse), you can help them by pointing out the pottery. Or the cute puppy across the street. Or the magic fairy hiding in the trees in the backyard. Or the uplifting story on your social media feed.
What matters is not what you show them, but that you show them something—namely that you understand they’re going through something and you are here to help bring them back down to earth, back within themselves.