A few months ago, I was visiting a dear friend of mine. We were sitting in the kitchen with our hot cups of coffee talking about life and motherhood.
Her two children, who are three and four, were playing in her son’s bedroom. Every once in a while, we’d stop to listen to the commotion coming from upstairs. Mostly, we heard laughter and two young children planning and pretending.
Then, her youngest starts screaming loudly about something that hurt her feelings.
My heart raced, I listen closely trying to discern what’s being said, what could have happened, and if anyone was hurt. I waited for my friend to put down her coffee and trudge upstairs to intervene and help her children with their problem.
Instead, she took another sip, looks at me and says “It’s okay, let’s give them time to figure it out on their own.”
She was as cool as a cucumber. I was not.
I stood there, frozen, listening to the little voices upstairs.
“I don’t like that!!”
“Fine, I’ll take this one and you can have that one. Okay?!”
I heard a bit of sniffling as her daughter calmed down, but the fight was over. They figured it out and continued their play.
I was shocked and impressed, not just with the kids, but with my friend.
She was able to stay calm and trusted her kids to problem solve and figure things out. If it were me, I’d be flying up those stairs to see what was going on!
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That small moment really got me thinking. I know that it’s important to give kids time to work things out on their own, but I haven’t been very good at doing that with my own boys, and it’s been causing problems.
I’ve been getting irritated that I have to continually intervene and help them through their problems. Every scream and frustration from one of them and I jump into action.
Because of my refereeing, my six year old and three year old come to me every time one of them feels slighted or frustrated with their brother. I listen to who did what, I reflect their feelings, and together we come up with a solution.
It’s no big deal at first but after the gazillionth time that day, I’m done. That’s when I’d lose my cool.
I was so tired of it, something needed to change.
After my visit with my friend, I knew exactly what I needed to do.
Like everything when it comes to parenting and self-regulation, learning to pause is vital.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl
Instead of immediately jumping into problem-solving mode and taking on the job of the referee when my kids fight, I pause.
I stop and listen. Is someone hurt? What is the problem? Does it sound like they are going to figure it out? Is it getting more heated and they need someone to talk them through it?
There is usually time to stop and think about the situation. I know the cries of a hurt child, so unless I hear a child in physical pain, there is time to think. It only really takes a few seconds.
In that few seconds, I listen and pay attention.
The first time I paused, it took less than two minutes for them to sort things out and move on. I was shocked.
That showed me that they are capable of working things out, so I pause.
If they do come looking for me, I say “I can hear that you’re upset. I trust that you guys can figure this out.” If, after a few minutes, I don’t think they can work things out I’ll go help, but I always ask them to try first.
Now, they seek me out less often than before and they are taking more responsibility for their squabbles.
The one big thing I did learn while I paused, was that I had already taught my children how to handle conflict with each other.
I was surprised to hear my own words coming out of their mouths. “Hey, how can we fix this? Why don’t I get it for 5 minutes and then you get a turn? I’ll go set a timer.”
The first time I heard those words, I realized that I had put in the work and taught them what to do but wasn’t giving them the space to try out their skills.
That is what the pause does. It gives them time to practice their conflict resolution skills.
As children grow, adults won’t always be there to mediate every negative altercation between kids. Children need to know how to handle conflict, especially by the time they enter school. There’s no one better in this world to practice with then your sibling.
I taught my kids these conflict resolutions skills using tips from two books, Siblings Without Rivalry and Peaceful Parent Happy Siblings. They are both excellent reads and helped me foster a great sibling relationship between my boys. I can’t recommend them enough.
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live TooPeaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life
Since I’ve become more intentional in my pausing, my children have amazed me. Often times they work out their problem and move on within a few minutes.
The best part is, I’m not referring all day long so I’m not as worn down by the bickering.
Yes, the fighting still happens every once in a while, especially after school. But, now I’m calmer when they do need my help to sort out a problem because I’m not always having to drop what I’m doing to play referee. Since I’m calmer, I’m more patient and willing to take the time to listen and help.
I’m grateful for that moment with my friend. I’m grateful that she reminded me of the importance of waiting and trusting in my kids.
In her small moment of inaction, she reminded me that kids are capable.
This is fantastic, Amanda. I do my best to pause as well, though not always with success. Another tactic I do is to just describe what’s happening and see what they do to figure it out. Like, “So, A wants that toy but B had it first? It looks like you both want the toy? What are you going to do about this?” So that they learn to resolve their own conflicts. Because you’re right, I don’t want them to come to me each time there’s a squabble.
Thanks Nina! Yep, and that’s pretty much how I facilitate the problem whenever I do have to step in. It works so well! It’s another reminder that kids just want to be heard and are capable of problem solving.
This post came at the perfect time; I’m trying to implement the same with my own boys (4.5 and 2). Thanks for reminding me that I’m not the only one doing this.
You’re welcome! It can be so hard to take that pause sometimes. Good luck!
Great approach and will try it more, though don’t you think it’s putting a bit of responsibility onto the older one to show the younger how to behave, (not wholly a bad thing) but shouldn’t kids feel their parents presence in a good way, supportive and guiding.
Oh I agree. I’m still there and do still help them work things out when they need me to. But, now I pause and wait to give them the space to try before I step in. I guess that I do ask my older one to take a bit of responsibility in the situation. I have worked hard with him to give him the tools to be able to work things out with his brother. Sometimes he’s able to find a way to work with his brother, and sometimes he needs some help. They are both young and do still need my help.
I love this! Yes, kids are remarkably capable, often MUCH more than we think they are. While I have only one child, she often has a friend over, and when they scuffle, I try to give them a chance to sort it out for themselves. The hardest part is usually getting the other parent to give them a chance to work it out 😉
Ah so glad I read this. It is JUST starting to happen that they are fighting since the age gap is so bad. I immediately rush in everytime I hear the 3 year old yell out “NO!” or “MINE!” Tomorrow I’m just gonna say “work it out guys” and chill 😉
My mom had 5 boys and me, her girl. Whenever anyone started arguing and/or shoving, she’d firmly remind us that in our family, all disagreement involving “outdoor voices” and/or physical contact took place outside in the back yard. I only remember one occasion when anyone actually went outside. On that occasion, one punch was thrown, and the shock of it was, well, shocking. The brother who threw the punch was mortified, started crying, and said he was sorry over and over. He still remembers how awful he felt.
The rest of the time, we looked at each other and laughed. Then we came to agreement, or just moved on. My mother NEVER got involved in our fights. We kids were all in it together in our house, even though we were all very different.
I only had one child myself, so I didn’t face this challenge with mine, but I provided lunch and after school care for a year for two boys. They fought constantly at their own home, but at my house, once I told them (in mid winter, in northern Ontario, Canada) that we only fight outside in our family, not surprisingly, after that one time of getting bundled up to go outside and argue, they never had another problem. They quickly learned to work things out on their own.
This is amazing advice. If only I’d heard it 10 years ago. :(. What do I do now that my kids are 13, 10, 8 and are instantly emotional (over the top) and are unable/unwilling to act with reason and logic. What then? 🙁
Yes, that does happen a lot. Most of the time kids just need to be heard and listened to when they are that upset. Logic can’t take place until they are out of their overwhelmed emotional brain. Give them space to calm down, reflect their feelings “Oh man, that made you mad/sad!” Check out the book Siblings Without Rivalry, it’s packed full of tips to not only help with sibling fighting but also how to help foster a better relationship between your kids. It’s not too late for a change, I promise!
Sometimes been able to pause and allow the kids to figure it out helps them to learn how to handle conflicts and disappointment… But then, sometimes they can be overbearing and l just lash out…gosh!