The Lawnmower Approach

Children are always growing, learning, and discovering. Part of this process is for them to come up against life, bang around, get into fights, have night terrors, and get big feelings. All of these normal things need to happen so they can learn to regulate. Yet, these normal things are often inconvenient for us parents. In turn, we easily label undesirable behavior as bad or problematic. On a high level, this is not fair for the children for they do not know or have the skills to choose better…they are learning those skills by going through these tough situations. This is how life is learned. 

Yet, even though I am aware of this, I still see that my first impulse is to take the lawnmower approach to their behaviors that appear inconvenient for me.

What is the lawnmower approach? It is the approach where I react emotionally and cut everything down in front of me. Essentially, this approach looks to end the perceived problem immediately. It is impulsive and seeks to take immediate control of the situation. No good learning gets done this way.

Sometimes in this situation, I may raise my voice: “HEY! Knock it off! STOP DOING THAT!”

Other times it may be when I react by giving an ultimatum: “If you guys don’t stop, then no one gets the toy!”

In those examples, as simple as they are, I just took the easy way (for me) to stop the behavior. Yelling or taking away is often just a Band-Aid approach to problem-solving (behavioral solving). It covers up the problem but does nothing to fix the issue.

So let’s return to our analogy. Weeds (undesirable behavior) are growing all over the place…We pull out the mower and mow them down….problem solved…for now. A week later, those same weeds have grown stronger and spread….outcomes the lawnmower, and we cut them down again. The problem never has been addressed and grows back even stronger with more numbers. Not only do we cut down the unwanted behaviors, but we also cut down opportunities to model great behaviors: listening, trust, empathy, and understanding.

Is there a better way to approach this problem? Yes, we should treat children as a garden, not a lawn. We don’t mow a garden. We tend to it, get on our knees, dig in the dirt, and pull the weeds. We plant things to grow (values, virtues, and habits). Then we create the optimum environment for those seeds to flourish.

Gardening is not a convenient thing…not at all. To create a beautiful garden, we have to observe and listen to what it tells us it needs at the moment. Things grow in their own time, and all the while, we watch, monitor, feed, pull weeds. It is a long process that needs patience and perseverance.

Good problem solving is not a race back to our easy, convenient life. Let’s aim to take the time to understand the problem. Taking time to reflect and dig into a problem is the only way to stop it in its place properly. Gardeners pull weeds for a reason. By getting down to the roots, you stop it from growing back. Mowing keeps the roots in the place where they can continue grow…and get worse.

A few reminders to go from lawnmower man to gardener: 

  1. When emotionally triggered by the situation, pause. Wait and listen before responding. Get back to the intellectual brain.
  2. Coach rather than yell.
  3. Ask questions. By asking questions, we are helping the child move from an emotional state to a thinking state.

All behaviors are symptoms that are rooted deeper within a child. Work not to shame it. Do the opposite…pause, accept it, listen, and let it teach you something about what it needs…All behaviors tell a story….what story are you listening to today?

Be well!


Photo by Gabriel Jimenez via Unsplash

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