I was upstairs changing out laundry (I know, go me!). I was working as quickly as I could since I had the baby with me and he thinks it's super fun to hang out right by the edge of the top of the stairs. I could hear the sounds of a disagreement downstairs that began to escalate into "Moooommmm, Ryan's . . . " and "Mooooommmm, but she's . . . "
The first thing I did was step away from the laundry room and talk to both of them (they were on the stairs at this point). "You guys are having a problem, I can hear that. But I can't help you work on solving it right now because I'm trying to get the laundry started. Why don't you work on it yourselves for another minute or two and then if you still need help I'll be downstairs very soon and we can talk about it."
They kept fighting and trying to get me more involved in their problem--whining, tattling, arguing. I repeated myself a couple of times, but nobody was hearing me. So I said a loud "STOP!" That sure got their attention. Then I said "I'll be down in a moment. I know you're having a problem and it sounds like you need my help. I want to help you, but I also need to finish this first. I WILL be back downstairs in a minute. I WANT to help you and I WILL. Can you please wait?"
They couldn't stop. So I closed the washer lid (only about 2/3 full, but hey--it's something!), scooped up the baby, and we all headed downstairs.
Both kids started shouting at once. They were both VERY upset with each other. I started to talk, but again, it wasn't until I said "STOP! I need you both to listen to me now!" in a loud-ish (but not yelling) voice that I was really able to get their attention.
"I want to hear what you each have to say about this problem."
Ryan immediately jumped in and started complaining, and Morgan was dissolving into tears.
"Stop talking please!" I said to Ryan. "You will each get a chance to say what you need to, but Ryan, you need to be quiet just now. Morgan. Tell me what happened."
Morgan tearily said, "I was trying to go over into the corner [near the table R was using to play his computer game] and Ryan tried to hit me!" Ryan started to contradict this, but I reminded him that he'd get his chance to tell me in a moment, that it was Morgan's turn.
I asked M, "Did you get hit? Are you hurt?"
M: "No, he didn't hit me, he hit AT me!"
Me: "You didn't like that."
M, still kind of crying, "No. I wanted to go into the corner!"
Me: "What did you say to Ryan when he hit at you?"
M: "Nothing. He's not supposed to do that!"
Me: "Were you worried that you might really get hit?"
M: "Yes!!!" [breaks down into tears again]
Me: "Okay, what would you like to tell Ryan about being hit at?"
M: "I don't know."
Me: "How about 'Ryan, I don't like it when you hit at me.' or 'Stop!' or 'That makes me think I'm going to get hurt!' "
Me: "Would you like to tell him one of those things right now?"
M: "No, I want you to do it." [Sometimes she needs my help with saying the words.]
Me: "Okay, well, I think he heard us talk about this and I think he understands that you don't want him to do that any more, okay? Right, Ryan?"
They both agreed to their respective questions.
So then I turned to Ryan and asked him to tell me what happened. There's no way I can possibly capture all of the words he uses to detail any narrative of interest to him, so I'll just try to capture the essence. Those of you who know him in real life can imagine how much longer this actually took!
Ryan: "She's trying to get into that corner and I don't want her there!"
Me: "You don't want her there. Got it. So tell me about this hitting-at-her thing."
R: "Well, I didn't hit her! She's telling a lie!"
Me: "I heard what she said. She didn't say you hit her. She said you hit AT her. Tell me what happened."
R: "Well, I didn't want her over here so I [gestures with a TKD swinging motion]."
Me: "Hm. I can see why Morgan might be scared that she'd get hurt. I wouldn't want you doing that chop so close to me either."
[Interlude while he corrected me ad nauseam about why what he did was not a chop but rather a knife-hand or some such. Hmph.]
I broke into his word stream with: "I don't want to know about TKD right now. It doesn't matter what kind of hitting in the air you did near her. What matters is that your actions made her worry she'd get hurt. That's a threat [he understands that word] and that's not kind and it's not a way to solve a problem."
Ryan: "But! But! But! I don't want her in the corner!!!!"
Me: "Well, what's a better way to tell her that?"
R: "Um, 'Morgan, don't go in the corner?' "
Me: "That would be a way to tell her. What would you do next time if she didn't respond to that the way you want her to? What would you do then?"
R: "Um, ask you for help?"
Me: "Yes! Will you start hitting at her, making her worry she might get hit?"
Me: "Okay, good. I'm very glad to know that you will not be hitting at her any more."
Now, at this point in the conversation, Ryan clearly thought we were finished. But we weren't. All we had discussed up to that point was Morgan's problem with the way Ryan was treating her (a very valid problem!). But the original issue--who was going to be in the corner of the room--still remained unsolved. So we forged on...
Me: "Okay, so now that we all agree not to threaten to hit someone when you have a disagreement, let's work on a solution to the other problem. It sounds to me like the problem is: Morgan wants to play in that corner and Ryan doesn't want her to be over there. Am I right?"
They both nodded their heads.
Me: "So Ryan, tell me about this problem."
R: "Well, I'm planning to do a battle plan over there after my computer game is done and I need all of that room to do my work! So she doesn't get to be over there!" [pointing and glaring with self-righteous indignation!]
Me: "Morgan, now you tell me about this problem."
M: "I want to play over there!"
Me: "Alrighty then. Let me get this straight. Ryan, you want that space for your battle plan [Note: I have no idea what that actually means.] and Morgan you also want to play there, right?"
Me: "Ryan, I'm confused because it looks to me like you're playing your computer game."
Ryan: "Well, I AM, but I'm planning to work in the corner after my game is over, which is very soon!"
Me: "But you're not working there now. Why can't she work in that corner while you are doing your computer game?"
Ryan: "Because I don't want her to!"
Me: "Okay, I understand that you don't want her there, but I need you to understand that the areas in our family room are for anyone to share. If you had a project already set up over there, you could ask her--or me, or whoever wanted to go there--not to knock it down. That would be fair. But I don't see a project there right now. You're not using that space, so I'm not sure if it's fair to prevent someone else from using it."
Ryan began to get frantic: "But I'm GOING to use it! I need to do my battle plan in that! corner!"
Me: "It sounds like you want a turn using that corner."
R: "No, I don't want a turn! I just want to be the ONLY person to work in that corner!" [Reminds me of that line from They Might Be Giant's Ana Ng: "I don't want the world. I just want your half." Heh.]
Me: "Do you remember that you do have a space in this house, that's just for you to use whenever you want, only for your projects? It's your room."
R: "But! But! But!" [I know I'm getting close when he starts with the buts.]
Me: "The family room and the downstairs areas are for anyone to use, as long as they are not disrupting someone else's work. Since you're not using that area right now, I think it would be fair for Morgan to use it. If you want, I'll help you and Morgan work out a plan for who is going to use that corner."
He argued a little longer (it's his way) but I just calmly repeated my points two times (my personal repetition limit).
Me: "Morgan, do you still want a turn with the corner?"
M: "Yes I do."
Me: "Morgan, do you understand what Ryan and I were talking about? Because we were talking a long time and using lots of words, so I want to make sure you understand." [She has a much lower (normal?) tolerance for conversations all filled up with words and nuance and repetition than Ryan and I do. At this point, she was sagging down on the couch looking extremely bored and mentally in her Happy Place. :o)]
M: "I understand."
Me: "Okay, tell me what your understanding is."
M: "We all get to be in the family room and get to have a turn in the corner."
Me: "Awesome. Sounds like you know our family rules. So would you like a turn now? Would you like help figuring out a plan for who is going to use the corner?"
M: "Ryan, I want to use the corner and when you're done with your game, then you can have a turn! How does that sound?"
R, after some hesitation, said: "Um, okay. But I'm going to be done with my game in 10 minutes. So can I use the corner in 10 minutes?"
R: "Sounds like a plan. And you know what else? We could . . . " and then launched into a 5 minute exposition about the game they could play together in the corner! Which they are playing right now!
If this sounds exhausting and time-consuming, then you'd be right. But let's be honest: most of parenting is exhausting and time-consuming, isn't it? ;)
In many ways, the non-punitive, non-parent-as-authoritarian style of parenting is easier on the parent. Because especially now that they are older, I can place the burden of their problem-solving where it belongs--on them. However, in order to get to the place where they are solving their problems together (the last minute of our conversation), walking them through the process takes a lo-o-o-o-o-ng time.
This process is totally worth my time, however. Because going through this exercise, which happens daily (although this was an example of an especially lengthy issue), supports so many of my values, which I want my kids to know about, and gives them good practice using skills that they will be able to use throughout their lives.
I could easily have managed this issue with a few stern directives:
"Don't threaten your sister! Don't tattle on your brother! Morgan gets a turn playing in the corner!"
And we might have arrived at similar results--a child who knows that threatening to hit is not acceptable, a child who knows that whining and tattling makes mom frustrated, a correct judgment as to who ought to use the corner at that moment in time.
However, we put in some time and used rational discourse that focused on problems and solutions, and I think we are all the richer for it. In addition to a review of family rules about threatening and the usage of common areas, Morgan and Ryan:
- Practiced hearing and/or saying words they can use in the future;
- Got a review of the family rules--and a review of why we have them, hopefully gaining a better understanding;
- Had a chance to formulate what they saw as the problem(s);
- Listened to the other child's formulation of the problem(s);
- Learned they could depend on me to assist them in solving their problem(s), but not to have their problem(s) solved for them;
- Practiced expressing their feelings about the problem(s) in an appropriate way;
- Negotiated (finally!) a mutual solution to their problem!
They got to practice the virtues: specifically rationality, honesty, independence, rational self-interest, justice, and the Trader Principle. Had I done my parenting job in Judge-Jury-Executioner style, they would have been robbed of such a valuable opportunity to practice these skills.
Sometimes--okay, often--I really do get impatient and frustrated with this process, especially if I'm trying to do something else more important to me at the same time. But I am trying to keep in mind that THIS is my primary job and that when I take time away from doing something else to help the kids with these sorts of issues, I'm not taking time out in the unproductive sense--I'm being productive. This is me, being productive. :o)
How could I improve for next time? I probably could have paused my laundry activity sooner--but since I didn't think anyone was injured (at least physically), I chose to complete it before embarking on our exercise. What I ought to have done--and will do--is make sure that everyone knows that if someone is getting hurt (or even threatened) then they ought to bring that to my attention right away. And I will ask next time there's an escalating problem--"Is anyone hurt?"
Another thing I need to somehow work on is using fewer words. It's hard because Ryan and I are both such wordy people (didja notice?). Morgan is less loquacious and lacks the stamina for these negotiations. So what happens is I'll handle her part, then deal with Ryan who enjoys engaging in a prolonged siege of my limits (the better to ascertain where they are and whether I think they are important). I try to follow her lead in terms of whether she is at her limit and release her from the continuing
So anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into a typical altercation on a typical day. And now I've got to go handle another problem (Sean's getting into Morgan's LEGO project)! Bye!
On a Related Note (in other words, similar posts by me!):
Kids Handling Conflict
Tantrums and Whining and Tattling, Oh My!