My computer crashed! That's a major zigger-zagger.

Zigger-zagger ... you know, when things don't go according to plan. It's a term coined by Ross Greene, PhD, author of The Explosive Child and founder of the collaborative problem solving approach ( and it's a good one.

We need a way to talk to our children about things not going according to plan because it happens to all of us. A lot. And when we label this phenomena in advance and Zigger-Zagger help our children come up with a behavioral script for coping, things go much better. Here's how:

  1. During a calm moment, talk to your child about plans sometimes changing, and things not working the way we want them to. Give a few examples your child can easily relate to.
  2. Think of a word or phrase to describe this: zigger-zagger, hurdle (as in obstacle needing to be jumped), kafuffle.
  3. Zigger-Zagger Agree on a set of simple steps your child will follow when one of these occurs, something along the lines of
    1. say "That sure is a kafuffle"
    2. take a breath;
    3. tell yourself, "It's okay"
    4. deal with it.
  4. When the situation arises, help your child follow the steps (without additional coaxing, yelling, etc. Stay calm and supportive).
  5. Zigger-Zagger Devise an incentive system to motivate your child, perhaps a point each time she follows the steps, with a fun activity after she's accumulated 5 points (start low). Plan on using the reward system at least 3 weeks (it takes 21 days of sustained effort for new behaviors to become more routine).

Use the word or phrase you've agreed on, keeping the behavioral script simple. Consider teaching your child what it means to be flexible, and roll this in with the "deal with it" step. For more on how to do this, see my book, What to Do When You Grumble Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Negativity.

Be attentive to times your child handles zigger-zaggers appropriately, giving both verbal praise and a point. Oh, and my computer. I'm breathing. And telling myself it's okay. And dealing with it (mostly).