Ever wish you had a magic remote that could take you back in time just a few precious minutes, so you didn’t have to eat your words …? I use one all the time!
No, seriously: The physical tool itself has varied through the years—from our actual TV remote control to a tiny, kid-sized, non-working tech gadget to our current version, a paper drawing my son made. What it looks like is the least important quality. The most important are its special features. If you’re looking for fun hacks to help improve family communication, this is the one to try.
Regardless of what the buttons read, any magic remote (mine, yours, or your child’s) has the capacity to help us suspend reality for just one very important conversation.
Yes, that’s right. The purpose of the “Magic Remote” game is to help you—or any other member of your family—go back in time to change the outcome.
No, it isn’t literal. But it absolutely has the capacity to forge broken emotional bonds and repair any damaged or hurt feelings for both parties. (For a more detailed, study-based explanation of the importance of repairing emotional damage for healthy child neurodevelopment and overall mental health, you can read this article at the U.S. Child Welfare Information Gateway.)
Consider the following example, taken straight from, shall we say, a friend’s experience …?
PARENT: (knocks gently at the door frame of elementary child’s open bedroom door) Can I come in for a sec?
CHILD: (playing a video game; shrugs without looking up)
PARENT: (entering bedroom) What game are you playing? (engages the child in brief conversation about new game/child’s interests, then switches topics) I have something in my back pocket here …. (pantomimes pulling out invisible object) Will you look at that? It’s our Magic Remote!
CHILD: (rolls eyes)
PARENT: Yeah, I’m going to have to hit pause for a second. (pantomimes pushing thumb on button) Oh! Time just froze! Don’t move! (pretends to freeze; speaks out of the side of mouth) You have to freeze, too.
CHILD: (reluctantly exaggerates frozen pose and speaks out of side of mouth) Help me!
PARENT: Oh, un-pause! Whew, okay. We’re unfrozen. (both laugh) But I do want to rewind time. Can you guess where I want to go back?
CHILD: (narrows eyes and pretends to growl) I don’t want to talk about it.
PARENT: I know we had a yucky moment, so I really want to fix that. Okay, hitting rewind …. (pantomimes pushing another button) Let’s see, is this where we were? Oh, I see two frozen people in your room, going, “Help me!” (both laugh, shaking heads) No, not far enough. Okay, trying again …. a-ha! Here we are in the basement and you and your brother are both building robots with our STEM box. You both wanted the pipe cleaner, but there wasn’t much left in the package.
CHILD: Yeah, and then he took the last piece and hid it! And he wouldn’t get it for me! And he’d already used so much of it in his first build today!
PARENT: Oh, I see that playing now. Right! That’s exactly what’s happening, just like you said. And then what did you do, do you remember?
CHILD: (sulkily) I smacked him and pushed him. I just wanted him to get it for me!
PARENT: Okay, I’m pushing this replay button, and guess what? We get to redo it. This time, instead of smacking and pushing him in your anger, what do you want to do?
CHILD: I guess I could use my words to ask him to get it for me? But I was so mad! He wasn’t even using it!
PARENT: Hmm, so it sounds like before you ask him nicely to get it, you need to do something about your feelings. You said you were so mad. What helps you to calm down when you’re mad—besides hitting your brother?
CHILD: Nothing! … I mean, this video game is working.
PARENT: Yes, your video game helps you calm down. It takes your mind off of things. Is there anything you can do to calm down when you’re in the basement if you still want to play there?
CHILD: I guess I could breathe in the roses and blow out the candles?
PARENT: That’s a great idea. Do you want to do it together now? (both practice breathing in and out in long, slow inhales and exhales á la meditation, led by parent) Oh, I feel relaxed and I wasn’t even upset. How do you feel?
CHILD: Better. Calmer. (spontaneously shares more details about what feels unfair with his sibling)
PARENT: (addresses the concern at hand; asks how child can solve this problem) You have some good ideas. It’s hard to think of them when your lid is flipped though, isn’t it? We’re at the part now where you’re getting a timeout. Uh-oh! (gestures with invisible remote) Oh, but wait! Since you worked it out with your brother, you’re just getting a hug from me!
BOTH: (hug; child runs off to hug sibling and apologize—and use their own version of the “Magic Remote for Kids”)
As you can tell from the sample convo, the Magic Remote serves as a surrogate tool: Instead of the parent dictating, “I want you to apologize for hitting your brother,” the remote becomes the portal for transforming the situation—no dictating needed. It’s also a segue into family feelings. For example, the parent could add how they were surprised to see the reaction happen so quickly or that “it hurts my heart when you two don’t get along, because I know you love each other.” (The caveat here, of course, is to not let the Magic Remote become a tool for emotional manipulation, but rather a way to express feelings in a matter-of-fact way.)
An added benefit is the deeper, unseen changes that get made in your family’s neuropathways. As with hypnosis, meditation, EMDR therapy and other modalities that work with the brain-body connection to help us healthily process trauma, this tool serves as a visceral, experiential connector. It lets us re-envision—and therefore, mentally and holistically re-experience—the situation, giving us a different (hopefully better) emotional response to the original triggering circumstance or thought that set off the problem. Read more about the concept here, if you’re up for some scholarly reading.
Like every tool on the planet, this one has its limitations. First, you will not always have the time to conduct such a long conversation, nor will you have the patience. The good news is that this particular tool is one that can be used after the fact, which means a whole day can go by before you address the issue. This gives you the luxury of both finding free time (or simply carving it out if you’re busy, such as at bedtime or breakfast) and taking some space to bring your own lid down. (For more info on the “flipped lid” analogy, check out this video of Dr. Daniel Siegel, famed pediatrician, and psychiatry professor, explaining the hand-brain model.)
You may also have a child (or spouse or this issue, yourself) who does not want or need the added mental gymnastics brought into a conversation about feelings. If that’s the case, this is one tool you can leave out of your parenting toolbox.
However, most children will gravitate to the concept—probably even more quickly than their grownup caretakers. It also works with various ages, particularly for tech-enthusiastic kids/families.
Introducing the Tool
The first time you bring out your Magic Remote, you may be unsure of yourself. Try this simple script that I used with my toddler for the very first time:
ME: (sitting on edge of bed with TODDLER, holding family TV remote) What’s this?
TODDLER: ‘Mote-con control!
ME: Right! Our “’mote-con control,” or remote control. What do we use it for?
ME: Yes, we use it for our TV. Ah, did you know it can be magic?
TODDLER: (eyes widen) Ah, no!
ME: It can! (stage whispers) For pretend! (in normal voice) Let’s see what it can do … (pushes buttons, pretends to rewind time, pause, etc., demo’ing the capabilities) Would you like to try? (hands remote to toddler, who accepts eagerly; both pretend to change time and react) Where would you like to go? (after letting the toddler lead the pretend play for a bit, redirects) Do you know where I’d like to go? I’d like to go back to when you weren’t listening to me earlier. I got angry when I took you to your Calm Down Spot, and I want to change how we both reacted.
We all have moments where we wish there were real-world “do-overs.” Although there are things we can never un-say or un-experience, we can work to minimize the damage through emotional repair, reinforcing trust with the ones we’re raising, and fostering a lifetime of bonds. When you say, “I’m sorry,” in a fully experiential way, you give your words powerful actions to demonstrate their meaning.
For more than 15 years, Coach Kiki has used The 3 Keys to Communication© to help sales pros & small biz owners cycle out of fight-or-flight in the moment through self-awareness & mindfulness.
With Coach Kiki & Kiddos, she now helps entrepreneuring families integrate each individual’s values to speak truth with love.