Monday, April 26, 2010

The One about the Fight

If you follow me on Twitter (and really, you should!), you might be aware that last week Ryan got into a fist fight with one of his neighborhood friends. I didn't actually witness the fight, which I think is an advantage for me in a strange way. Certainly this is a situation that requires Thoughtful Parenting, and now that things seem to have been resolved, I'm ready to share this story.

It was a nice spring afternoon, and Ryan and Morgan were running around in the backyard with four of their friends from the neighborhood. In addition to my kids, there were A., H., W., and E. All boys except for Miss Morgan.

There was some kind of play battle going on, as I could hear from inside. I was getting the baby down for his nap and we were rocking and rocking and rocking in the easy chair. As I was absentmindedly listening to the sounds from outside, I noticed a change in the screaming. If you have kids, you have probably had those moments where you wonder "Hmmm...is that part of the game, or is someone hurt/crying/mad/beating the crap out of someone else?" Well then.

I heard Ryan shout "Get out of my yard!!!!"

Then, A: "You're not the boss of me!!!!"

Then, more screaming.

Then, crashboombangunidentifednoises....

Then Morgan was stomping up the back stairs and saying, round-eyed, "Ryan and A. are having a fight!!!"

By this point I was trying to pretend that Sean was ready to be put down on his own so I could deal with this apparently serious situation. Sean, to my chagrin, was actually not in the mood for pretending along with me, so the next 10 minutes of my life were filled with screaming, pissed off boys. Morgan maintained her composure, but had the Big Eyes of Wonder and Worry.

W. and E. were waiting at the front door, ready to fill me on the details. A. and H. had already gone home. I had to tell W. and E. several times "No thank you, I don't want to hear about what happened. It's time for everyone to take a break and go back to their own houses." W. in particular was simply itching to tell me all kinds of stuff. (More on why I didn't want to hear his version in a bit.)

Meanwhile, Ryan was furious and trying to hold back tears. I made the mistake of trying to touch him once or twice and quickly backed off. (What am I, new here?) After Ryan ran upstairs to rage and/or calm down, I talked to Morgan to find out what she knew.

Based on both of their stories, here's what I was able to piece together:

All of the kids were playing a battle and then A. hit Ryan in the eye with a swim noodle (aka, a sword or lance or other weapon) on purpose (according to Ryan). When Ryan accused A. of the crime, A. called Ryan a moron (among other things) and the screaming began. A. threw a lawn chair at Ryan, who then threw it at the fence (which explains some of the crashing I heard). Some other lawn implements may or may not have been hurled. Then the fists started flying. (Neither boy was seriously physically hurt.)

Here's the thing: I don't really actually care who hit first or whether A. hit Ryan on purpose with the noodle. Which is why I sent the other boys home without hearing their eyewitness reports.

Most of the reason I don't care is because, quite frankly, I can't trust my sources. :o) Not only that, I didn't want to listen to W. and E. at that particular moment because Ryan was still in the Beyond Upset and Planning his Revenge Phase, and any variation from the Official, Ryan-Approved Version of the story would have been throwing fuel on top of that particular fire.

Now, based on what I know about both of these boys and their many years of history, personalities, etc. I do think it very likely that A. hit Ryan with the swim noodle accidentally, and Ryan overreacted by ordering A. out of the yard. And I also find it very likely that A. was probably the prime mover in the punching of the fists portion of the program.

Even so--what actually happened is less important to me than the fact that neither boy was very injured (no blood was shed at all), and that both boys have a plan going forward for how they will handle this next time.

After Ryan calmed way down (took a couple of hours), he told me his perspective about what happened and why. We discussed other ideas for what he could do the next time he and A. got so mad at each other that they felt like hitting each other, or really, the next time anybody felt like someone was hurting them on purpose in any way (the swim noodle!). I explained that I didn't really want them to play together until the two of them talked about what happened and agreed on a plan for next time. Ryan understood what I was saying, but was still in I'm Never Playing With HIM Ever Again mode.

Also, I should mention that I talked over with Morgan some things she could do if she ever found herself in a bystander role. She could, of course, come and get a grownup, which she did. She was happy to know she did a right thing. I also suggested that she could shout "STOP!" as loud as she could, because that might get the fighters to realize they should stop. Or at the very least, alert any grownups who happen to be nearby trying to put toddlers down for a nap.

And this is where the real parenting challenge began for me. Because I haven't had the best success in getting cooperation from the other parents when our boys have had disagreements in the past. They are nice people, but they parent differently from the way we do (tending toward permissive, I'd say), and they also seem really reluctant to handle anything that requires a confrontation or a resolution toward the future. In fact, based on the way similar (but less serious) matters have been treated in the past, I was not at all hopeful that the other mom would even agree to having the boys talk together about this.

Later that afternoon, I called the other mom, who seemed pleasantly surprised to find that I was calling regarding the fight. Sigh. But she did readily agree to my idea that I thought that Ryan and A. needed to sit down together, with us parents, and talk about what happened and figure out a plan for next time. We agreed to get the boys together after dinner that night.

That might have worked on our end. After those several hours had passed, Ryan had calmed down and developed some perspective (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and I think he would have been fine in our discussion. However, the other boy had fallen asleep at an unusually early hour. From the stress of the fight? Or was he over-tired and was that a factor in what happened? Who knows? Anyway, the discussion didn't happen that night.

His mom texted me to say A. had fallen asleep early, but mentioned that she had "talked to him" about the incident. I called the next day and left a message. Then nothing for a couple of days. Based on the past, I think she thought (thinks?) that because I'd talked to Ryan and she'd talked to her son, that the problem was handled.

But the way I view it, the problem that the boys have with each other was not handled. Each mom talked to her boy, and we probably said the same things to each of them: "Use words." "Come and get me next time." "I'm sure he didn't mean it that way." And maybe what we said was comforting (because that's what we mommies do, comfort).

However, I strongly believe that Ryan and A. needed to discuss the problem and agree on a plan for next time. A big component of Positive Discipline is looking forward. We don't just deal with what's just happened, we don't just listen, empathize, and not punish; we put tools into the hands of our children so that they might be better equipped to handle similar issues in the future. (As an aside, I think punishments/rewards can distract from the learning of new tools. Also, taking time to calm down helps, since in the heat of the moment, people often don't really care about the future, focused as they are on the recent past and their present feelings of anger.)

What I decided to do after I started to suspect that the other mom considered the matter closed is talk to both boys myself. Sometimes it's hard to know what to do parenting-wise when there's a kid involved who doesn't belong to you. But no matter what the other mom and kid want, MY kid is involved and I want him to have these tools. Also because of what had occurred, I really didn't trust the two of them to play together without supervision. I hate having to supervise 7 and 8 year olds playing in the backyard when they ought to be able to supervise themselves. So I wanted both boys to have some tools to use for next time, and this needed to be a prerequisite of their playing together unsupervised.

Well, we happened to see A. and H. this evening while grilling out our dinner on the balcony. The kids all seemed super happy to see each other and Ryan and A. were talking like old times. Yay. I was biding my time, not saying anything about the fight (they were talking over the fence between our yards). Then Ryan asked if he could go over and I jumped at the opportunity. This was not the way I'd envisioned it--sitting together in the kitchen, with parents from all sides, etc. But I went for it anyway.

I told them I'd be happy for them to play together, but I thought the two of them--all of them really, since H. and Morgan were there, too--ought to come up with a plan for next time they all felt angry and wanted to start hitting each other. All four children (ages 5, 5.5, 7.5, and 8) readily agreed. In fact, they were kind of laughing about the incident. A. said, "Yeah, we don't want that to happen again." and Ryan agreed.

So I said, "Okay, do you want to hear my idea? Let's all think of six OTHER things we might do if we're feeling so mad we might want to hit."

A.: "We saw a movie at school that talked about 10 things to do instead of fight."

Me: "Great! Give us some ideas!"

And the kids--all FOUR of them--came up with six ideas. It was kind of difficult to keep the conversation on track, since they sort of drifted off into wild and crazy tangents, and kept laughing over some of their ideas. Not to mention the fact that I was leaning over the balcony rail and all of the kids were talking over the fence. But they were all agreeable to the process and really had fun doing it. So this is the story of how I helped four children create a Wheel of Choice while shouting over the edge of my balcony.

What's a Wheel of Choice? Why, it's a Positive Discipline Tool Card!


In our case, the Wheel of Choice is a list of thing s the children agreed to do in the future. Our Plan. Here's a picture (I wrote it up later, but will copy it for A.):


Here's what they agreed. Instead of hitting, they will choose one of the following instead:

  • Use words to say how mad they are
  • Hit something soft like a pillow (or a bag of flour, someone suggested)
  • Make a Mad Face out of something (A.'s suggestion, from his movie at school. Apparently someone made a Mad Face on a pizza and then ate it! The kids thought other Mad Faces might work--with sticks or pine cones, or draw a picture on the ground.)
  • Pull up grass (like if you're outside and need to do something physical, grab a chunk of grass and pull until you feel better)
  • Find a grownup (MY suggestion!)
  • Hit yourself instead of someone else, but not too hard! (They all simply cracked up at the idea of "Hey I'm so mad at you I'm going to bonk MYSELF on the head!" It's not my favorite idea, but this was their list. And it is a little silly--sometimes a bit of comic relief can help a tense situation.)

So they told me their list, and were all laughing like the chums they usually are about the whole thing. Even through the playfulness, it seemed like they knew I was very serious, and Ryan and A. did seem to want to make it up. :o) I let the kids know I'd write it up, and I'll be sure to point it out to them the next few times they play together. As well as keep a close watch on them. Because even though they now have tools for moving forward, they will need some adult supervision for a while. Both boys are highly sensitive and vengeance-prone. And young enough to need help.

So this situation has been handled (for now). Ideally, we parents would have sat them down and all of us talked together. That didn't--and probably wasn't--going to happen. As much as I hate to take parenting matters into my own hands, I really thought I needed to. At the very least, these will be the ground rules for future playdates at my house--and I'm sure if they fight over at A.'s house his mom will send everyone home until they chill out, even if they don't consult the Wheel of Choice.

And that was the story of Ryan's First (and hopefully Only) Fist Fight!

5 comments:

Amy said...

Jenn, I feel so lucky to get virtual parenting experience through you and your blog! This story reminds me of the one about the lying. Thank you so much for sharing these experiences!

Sammy is too young for fist fights, but she definitely needs help with how to express her anger without either repressing or hurting others. (She actually does hit herself sometimes!) I love the Anger Wheel of Choice, and next time she has a blow up, after she calms down, we'll make our own. (We've talked to her about her options many times before, but we've never made anything concrete and visual, and this is so important.)

C said...

I agree, your posts are awesome and I enjoy them too. =D I want to encourage you to watch your children for signs of internalizing anger expressed as hitting themselves, though. One of them might think they've learned that this is OK. It's what I did growing up - pounded on my legs instead of getting in trouble for throwing something - and I turned all confrontations inward instead of dealing with them. I didn't get in any fights but my chosen alternative was just as bad!

Looking forward to your next post =)

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks, Amy and C.

Amy you're absolutely right that making it visual and concrete is so key. And that this idea can be between children or a parent can help a child, etc. You can make Wheels of Choice for other things, too--jobs around the house, etc.

I've heard of some people putting spinners on their wheels and the kid can spin to find a technique to try. That might be fun, too.

C.--you hit on the main reason I didn't love that "hit yourself" idea. If we'd been doing this properly, instead of hurriedly over the fence, I might have tried a little harder to steer them toward something more productive. We were nearing the end of everyone's patience with the process and it needed to be agreed upon.

I figure that if/when someone chooses that option, I can ask them if that really made them feel better. If not, they can choose something different to try. If so, then that might be a clue to find out more. I honestly suspect nobody is going to really try that idea, and if it's presented properly in the moment, I think that it could play a comic relief role, or at least be dismissed as painful/counter-productive. I'll let you know what happens if anybody chooses that one!

Dr. Jane Nelsen said...

Jenn, It was fun to read the way you handled this and it worked out well. They came up with good anger wheel of choice. I do want to mention that I think parents often get too involved in the fights of their kids instead of having faith in them to work it out. Just as your son and his friend demonstrated, kids are usually over it (the fight) while parents are still hanging on to it and thinking they need to so something about it--when the kids have already demonstrated that you calm down, let it go, and move on. :-)

Mary Willis said...

Hey Jenn, This helped me remember how lucky I am at school to always have backup (!). I never have to put a toddler down without another grownup (or 2!) to check out the playground scene...unlike when my own kids were growing up...

Also, that is is good to have time when you, as a child, are not micromanaged by adults...

That, why is it that a) boys always want to fight (after taking away the noodles - they were supposed to be used as ball bats for wiffle balls- and all sticks, this week the boys were using some plastic eggplants/bananas from the play kitchen as weapons, and a plastic grapefruit as a "bomb") and b)it seems to ALWAYS escalate, when someone gets hurt....

So, how to regulate "play" without regulating out the learning that seems to be driving it....????

Mary