Most of the time when sisters and brothers are at each other’s throats, I don’t have a clue what each of them wants and needs. I often get drawn or called to the scene too late to know. In addition, I really want my involvement to be really boring. I don’t want to add fuel to the fire and I don’t want to draw the conflict away from the owners of it. If the kids are having a good fight and everyone’s physically safe, they’ll usually work it out on their own. As long as it doesn’t hurt my eardrums to wait it out, I do so. However, I do want to interrupt the flow if there is a threat of harm to people or property. In those times and in times when I think they’re tired, hungry, or too young and overwhelmed and need help, I step between them to prevent harm, watch and listen to what’s important to each of them however they express that, and I may do something else.
I say maybe because sometimes a silent presence is enough to calm the scene and the kids may start hearing each other without me doing anything else. If not, I may ask, “Would you like some help?” which is short hand for offering to facilitate understanding.
So you know, I interpret the yelling and the fists as “Hey! Something’s important to me! Listen!” Therefore, all I want to do is remind us of our agreement to share that meaning. If I get a “yes” I ask, “What would you like her/him to hear?” or “What would you like to say?”
Of the listener, I ask, “What did you hear?”
Of the speaker, I ask, “Is that it?” In other words, “Were you heard in the way you were hoping?”
When they’ve shared all they want to share, with rolling eyes, funny sounds, faces, and every other expression that usually makes parents cringe, often someone will offer or ask someone to do something, like playing in a certain way. Otherwise, everyone stares at each other in a way that suggests, “What do we do now?”. If I’m moved to, I ask, “What do you want to do now?” to get the ideas flowing so that I feel free to move onto something else.
As I read this to my eight year old son, he adds, “Parents cringe too much. It’s funny.” My kids have taught me to lighten up. I don’t cringe nearly as often as I used to in the face of their bickering. I remind myself that puppies and kittens wrestle and fight all the time. Why would it be any different for our young mammals?
I credit being able to find the words to help me describe what happens in our house to Dominic Barter and Elaine Shpungin. My dream is that our family life can offer some hope to yours as you find ways to make family life simpler. Please share your comments below so that we may all learn from each other.