I had several “aha” moments while discussing (virtually) my post earlier this week about the Easter Egg Disaster. I really appreciated all the comments and thoughts I received on Facebook, via email, and here on the blog itself.
The main issue that came to the surface for me as I was concentrating on this issue is that I have been dealing with the small picture (one fight at a time) instead of the big picture. Because of this, I’d really stopped parenting in the way that has worked best for my family, my children, and myself. I have been dealing with physical fights by way of “reacting,” where as I believe parenting is a full-time and constantly pro-active job in order to gain the kind of results I am hoping for.
One great commenter yesterday on Facebook said
“I know my kids are much younger, but we talk a lot about that you can’t use your body to tell someone you are angry, you have to use words. Yelling, crying and getting upset is part of normal childhood development. When someone hits, punches, pulls hair, etc. I try not to shame them in the moment—they were so overwhelmed, that is all they knew how to do.
When I see them hitting, I immediately breath myself, take one kid away and say matter of factly, that is not okay. You can’t use your body to tell your brother you are angry. Then do the reflective talk ‘you are so upset, he took your toy, you are mad so you hit him.’”
This is, almost verbatim, how I dealt with physical anger with the kids when they were younger. When I felt they were old enough, a separate consequence was added (usually removal from the game and spending time alone until they were calm enough to “fix” the situation). Parenting toddlers is a very intense, every-second involvement sort of job. It’s exhausting. Much of that pace eases as the kids get older. But I found I needed to slip back into my full-court-press intensity level of parenting in order to solve this problem.
My BFF stopped by yesterday. She was discussing the comments on the blog with me and we were comparing the notes of what rang true for each of us and what wouldn’t have worked in our homes. During that discussion, Farmer Boy comes *busting* in the door from the yard. He is all huff and puff, arms folded across his chest, anger radiating. “Shooter is calling me names! I don’t even want to ever play with him! He called me a freak and ran his bike right over my bike! I want to ram my bike right into HIM!”
“Oh, gosh.” I said, “That must have really hurt your feelings. Calling names always feels bad, when you are saying them and especially when someone is saying them to you. Shooter must have been really mad, to do something mean like that.”
“Yeah! He was! Because I broke the stick he was using! I took it from him and smashed it right in half!”
“Oh – gosh. You must have been very angry. Why were you so angry?”
“He poked me right in the eye with that stick! In the eye BALL, not just the lid.”
“Oh no! Are you alright now? If someone is hurt I want to help right away.”
“No. I’m fine. I was mostly just MAD because he wasn’t being careful!”
“So it was an accident? Or did he hurt you with the stick on purpose?”
“It was an accident. But he should have been more careful!”
“Yes, he should have. What did he say when it happened?”
“I don’t know! I was so mad I was screaming and breaking the stick!”
“How do you think that made him feel? (uncomfortable pause) It probably hurt his feelings and made him angry. It sounds like he didn’t have a chance to apologize.”
“Well he shouldn’t have run over my bike!”
“That’s destructive. Why do you think he would do something like that?”
“We were calling each other names. And my bike was blocking the sidewalk and I wouldn’t move it because he was being so MEAN!”
“Sounds like you were both very, very upset and feeling out-of-control. Do you think we should talk this out together?”
“Yes. I’ll go tell Shooter that we all want to talk.”
I felt so much better after that conversation. I was exhausted – I
try to block out forget how much energy that level of crushing fury can require. Toddlers are often easier to distract or redirect when their feelings are too intense for them to handle in the moment. Of course, what you are working for is to ‘get to’ deal with what I’m currently focused on – being able to facilitate that level of emotion during conflict.
Eventually they did make their way in…after some more yelling in the yard, followed by one brother knocking the other’s hat off (at my house that is the equivilant of yelling ‘en gaurde!’) followed by more yelling, huffing and puffing, arm crossing and finger pointing.
But I employed the tools I want to use in my family. And I worked toward the goal that is important to me: Learning to resolve conflict. Like another friend commented on the original blog post:
“Kids argue all the time; f’in constantly. They play at arguing to learn how to handle conflicts in adult life. So having a goal of suppressing the conflicts is unreasonable and likely detrimental in the long run. So what’s the benefit? I suppose learning how to resolve conflicts. Certainly dealing with problems non-violently is the most basic.”
As I listened to them duke it out verbally, stepping in to translate or offer sympathy/understanding where it was appropriate in order to facilitate comprehension (
DUH, maybe your brother wanted to punch you in the face when you rammed into his bike with yours Gee, how do you think you would feel if someone did that to you? Like punching them? Yes, it would make me very angry too. That’s how your brother felt. I’m glad he didn’t actually punch you.) I felt better about how this is all going to turn out. It is critical to me that they learn to stick up for themselves, but we can do so with words. And equally important to me is the neccesity for reflection – look back at your own actions and think about what you would change if you could go back and do this again.
I did, in fact, pose that exact question to them. AFTER I made them stop for a bit. ”Guys,” I said, “We have to go to Farmer Boy’s session (for dyslexia phonics tutoring) in 30 minutes. Lunch is ready. Why don’t we take time out, eat our lunches, and I promise we will continue to talk about this when we are on the road. It will give everyone a chance to cool off.”
They were still angry while we ate lunch, but once we got in the van everyone truly had cooled down. I hardly had to prompt the conversation after that, and suddenly the admissions were dropping like ripe fruit and the apologies came close behind.
What made me feel good about it was the level of guideance I was giving – it was truly minimal. I was more like being an official in a
cage fight debate than a judge. The best part of the entire situation was the moment when, even though they were both furious, I told them I was very proud of them for continuing to discuss their problem instead of trying to hurt one another. It changed the tone and direction of everything. I was keyed back into the critical importance of positive discipline in one of the emails I received, and I’m so thankful I was able to put that into effect during the conflict itself, rather than afterwards. This allowed apologizing and making up to be its own reward when it happened.
And like my BFF said when she left, “You handled that really well (she witnessed the first conversation with Farmer Boy). It was great that you blogged about this, although I think some people got the wrong impression. When you are a very involved parent, you always have a ‘thing’ you zone in on – something you are trying to change or improve with your kids. Right now, this is just your thing. Now you are really getting a handle on the direction you want to go with it.”
If only every day could go so well – but close enough.
Some other very interesting questions came up in various emails – do boys actually fight more than girls? What are we trying to teach when kids fight? When do you, as the parent, step in? Do you, and if so when do you, incorportate punishment? Are your feelings, as the parent, important at all in terms of discussing their actions with the children? And, I found this one intriguing, how does learning to handle conflict as a child effect your adult relationships?
What do you all think? Let’s apply some more group wisdom. (I’m not kidding, I’m expecting AT LEAST as many comments as last time, so pick a question and give me an opinion. Lets talk about this. I’d love to post some of the most interesting comments in another follow-up.)