I get a lot of email about sibling fighting between siblings of all different age gaps (they are two years apart, they are six years apart – the age gap doesn’t seem to matter nor what gender the children are!), and also email concerning smaller children who are physically running at their parent, yelling at their parent, etc. You might think, well, that’s not my children! Well, great! However, I find many children, and actually many times children, especially those who feel anxious or angry or generally passionate about things have a harder time handling their big emotions. So, if your children are super calm and you never had to deal with any of this, it may be more of a temperament or personality thing on the part of your child, along with your parenting!
I think there are several step to helping gain peace amidst conflict in the home, whether the confict is child and parent or child to child.
- Figure out what your boundaries are. What will or will you not have in your home? You cannot just let things go along and then snap because suddenly after the twentieth time your child or the children together do something, you feel upset about it. If it is your boundary, you must have a plan to act on the behavior that crosses this boundary every single time. Decide what is big and what is small – it cannot ALL be big. Let some of it go, but don’t let all of it go. You are the parent and the guide to help your child. Your child is going to try things on; help them figure out which garment should stick.
- Do your best to set the right stage. A steady rhythm, a life that is not rushing from one thing to the next, making sure the children and yes, even teens, are rested and fed is really important and have had physical exercise. Limit the screens if you don’t already. Too much screen time seems to make all people cranky! Where is your self-care? We cannot do this without self-care. Exercise is usually the number one thing mothers tell me that helps them handle their children better. It is a priority!
- IN THE MOMENT: Calm yourself. It is much easier when children are older to leave the room, step outside, etc. and take a moment. It is harder when children are younger because they may be screaming, hitting, kicking, trying to climb up you in their frustration. Sometimes just sitting down and holding a child through that can help if you are comfortable with that. Sometimes just scooping up a small child and being together on the grass outside helps. Some families do look at helping their children sit down next to them in a cozy spot they have set up for just these occasions. Tiny children will need your physical presence to calm down; older children should be able to calm down without you physically holding them. Time in together and calm down. Do NOT attempt to talk about what just happened. No one is ready. Take this conflict and your reaction into your inner work that night. Why is this so hard for you to keep your cool when this happens? What is the fear undernearth your reaction if you are not calm?
- When everyone is calm, connect. Talk about what happened simply. If your child is tiny, under the six/seven change, you may approach this more from a simple statement, a picture of what happened (“Your car (the child himself) was going too fast and the lamp fell when you took that turn!). Older children can talk about what happened and you can listen. However, discourage going over and over the same thing. Some older children will do this in an attempt to show you how right they were and how they were wronged and how none of what happened was their fault. Once is enough. With that, simple statements also work best. “We are kind in this family” “We help in this family” when it is your turn to speak. And yes, you should speak and make clear what happened. And yes, everyone should learn to apologize and forgive each other as well. Apologizing and forgiving is also connecting. Apologizing is genuine; we never force a child to apologize but we model and as a child ages, this should come naturally.
- Consequences. The best consequences include having the child make restitution for what happened – if something broke, they fix it; if they disrupted the entire family, they need to do a chore for the amount of time they disrupted the family; if they hurt a sibling, they need to do something nice for that sibling. Sometimes teens have a harder time. For example, sneaky behavior of sneaking out of the house, taking something that isn’t theirs (repeatedly), sneaking onto technology, etc. This may require not just restitution , but also a natural consequence. They may loose driving the car for a period of time, for example, if they took the car without asking or snuck out and drove the car. Many times this step needs to come some time AFTER everything is calmed down and connection is made. Consequences made in the moment often are just punishments with no direct connection to what happened.
- Prevention. When children are under the six/seven change or even the nine year change, I think a lot of conflict resolution is literally training this order – calming, connecting, consequences and working on the right environment. However, as children reach the nine year change, I think being able to talk about dealing with frustration and conflict is really important. How do we handle big emotions? What is the model in our family? How do we work as a team all together? How do we love each other in times of conflict? Many children also need to learn to love themselves. I find this often comes into play a lot in the 9-14 age range.
It sounds simple when we lay it out, but it never is simple in the moment. The tears, the yelling, or dealing with the same issue fifty times in one day can be trying. Thinking everything is calmed down and then the yelling or crying starts again is also trying. However, this is probably one of the most important roles in parenting and homeschooling. It is character development and the thing many adults need to learn- conflict resolution in a non violent and direct (not passive aggressive) way. I will be writing some posts by ago about handling emotions and emotional health soon. It is a very imporatnt topic in this day and age when many teens are having challenges mental and emotional health. We need to be pro-active and work in developmentally appropriate ways to help our children. The foundation is in the under nine years, but the real work is between the ages of 9-18.
More to come,