What Else Could You Say?

What Else Could You Say?

In a hub airport I encountered a mom with a young son who was still at an age where he accompanied his mother into the women’s room. They were leaving the restroom when the mom noticed the boy was deliberately dragging along a small pile of paper towels with his feet.

She saw no humor in this act. Her face said, “He is clearly just doing this to annoy me.” Accordingly, she yelled at him and demanded that he pick them up and throw them away. He looked back at her defiantly and kicked them around some more “just to annoy her.” Her self-fulfilling prophecy had come true, as they so often do.

At the point when she raised her hand and threatened him with the classic non-question, “Do you want me to give you a spanking?” I broke the tension by stepping in, putting out my hand and offering to throw the paper towels away for him. As the boy handed them to me, I said what I saw, “Looks like you both are having a hard day.”

The mom nodded and, with a little more civility on her part and a little more obedience on his, they headed off to catch their next flight.

If you’ve read our online handbook, SAY WHAT YOU SEE, you know the mother-child interaction didn’t have to escalate like that.

Here’s your turn to practice your SWYS skills and get some direct feedback from me:

What else could you say if you saw your child deliberately dragging a pile of paper towels out of the airport restroom with his or her feet?

Hint: Start by saying what you see the child doing.


  1. Julia Kurskaya |

    Hey, you’re dragging a pile of towel along! You were waiting for me, and it’s hard to wait, especially today when we’re all excited about the coming flight (or tired after a long flight). So you made up a game to help you wait. You know what to do to make you feel better (or, You can make up a game out of nothing! or You know how to entertain yourself). But paper towels are not for dragging along. There must be something you could do… We could find an airport playground and you can play there for some time. Or we could really make a ball out of paper towels and see if you can score me some goals while we wait at the boarding gate.

    Will this be okay?

  2. Julia,

    You clearly remember what it was like to be a child and stepped right into his perspective. Congratulations!

    You knew to focus on his intentions and SAY WHAT YOU SEE! Meeting his need for connection first would make an instant difference for both him and you, and would prevent escalation and rebellion because he would immediately feel understood and acknowledged.

    Then you pointed out his STRENGTHs which would meet his need for power, and offered playful CAN DOs to meet his need for experience – voila! Easy flight ahead for you both!

    The only thing I would tweak would be to switch the “but” to an “and,” although in this case the child would’ve felt so understood, it really wouldn’t matter. Switching would be mostly for practice to help you get used to it for the times when it will matter more.

    So, way more than okay! You really got it!

  3. Julia Kurskaya |

    Yes, Sandy, replacing “but” with “and” makes it sound way better! It’s like staying on the same side with a child rather than opposing him. Thank you for pointing this out! I didn’t even notice. 🙂

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