One of the main reasons I started this project was to help my children learn how to be peacemakers. I didn’t want to assume all of the responsibility for bringing peace to my home myself. I wanted my whole family to share in that process and be invested in it.
So you can imagine my concern when, during our family prayer the other night, my daughters were not-so-quietly throwing punches at each other and yell-whispering “I HATE YOU, STUPIDHEAD!” while fighting back tears over a bracelet, and my two-year-old buddy boy was chiming in, taking sides, and just generally making the situation worse.
Did I mention we were trying to say a prayer?
And you can continue to imagine my concern when, the next morning as we were leaving for school, the kids were fiercely arguing (again) over (another) something of passing significance.
So, I decided to do a little research (and by research, I mean asking my friends on Facebook) to look for ways to cope with, and hopefully minimize the conflicts between my children. I simply asked, “What do you do when your kids are at each other’s throats?”
What I found was very interesting.
The responses from my parent-friends to this question seemed to fall into two categories. Those that were rooted in emotion and those that were rooted in thought. The emotion-driven responses seemed to be more reactionary, whereas the thought-driven responses were apparently decided upon and developed ahead of time (before the conflict began).
As I processed these responses, I realized maybe these little sibling-rivalry spats wouldn’t be so bad if Mother Dearest was some saintly, perfectly calm, emotion-free thinker….cool as a cucumber and always in control.
“Oh, you sweet children. Having an argument again are you? Oh dear. Let’s take some time to process this. I’m going to calmly access all of the best parenting methods I have available to me to help you facilitate a resolution.”
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
But unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Moms do have emotions. We are subject to the very same neuroscience that our children are subject to when they become frustrated, irritated, and uncontrollably angry. Hopefully, as adults, we can process our thoughts and feelings in a more disciplined way than our children can. That’s the goal, anyways…right?
So, to be honest, the real problem (for me) behind my children’s arguments are not the arguments themselves. Kids are kids. They will have conflicts. That is part of growing up and learning how to function in a family. That’s what siblings do. The problem is this: When kids flip their lids, sometimes it makes their parents flip their lids, too.
After some further research, I found there are basically two portions of our brain. The “downstairs” brain, located toward the lower back of our skull, is responsible for primal thought and emotion. Ever feel your heart beating fast, jaw clenched, and your fists ball up? Downstairs brain all the way. The downstairs brain can not access logical, rational thought. The downstairs brain is primitive and instinctual.
In contrast, the “upstairs” brain is the part of the brain that is responsible for clear, rational, complex and creative thought. You know the Mother Dearest described above? That was her upstairs brain talking.
Unfortunately, sometimes we get angry, and we seem to “flip our lids.” Our downstairs brain takes over and rational thought goes out the window.
(For more information on the neuroscience behind this, I highly recommend this link. It is amazing. Dr. Siegel’s new book, The Whole-Brain Child is next on my reading list!)
(Oh dear, I really have to figure out how to make a link work on WordPress. Until then, you may have to revert to the very primitive method of cutting and pasting. Trust me, this link is worth the extra nano-second it takes to do that.)
When our buttons get pushed in just the wrong way, our upstairs brain literally turns off. This is what happens to our children when one takes a bracelet from the other and then punches are exchanged. Their little brains flipped their lids. This is also what happens when parents are subject to reactionary behavior. You know, the “IF-YOU-DON’T-CUT-THAT-OUT-THEN-YOU-ARE-REALLY-GOING-TO-GET-IT!” impulses. Not that that ever happens to my husband or I. We are totally perfect.
But you know, for the benefit of everyone else, I decided to make another handy-dandy list of ways to cope.
And as I was making this list, it dawned on my that the very first response to my Facebook question was my very favorite.
“Make sure your involvement is as minimal as possible. Conflict resolution is part of the human experience, and the best way to learn is in a loving home.”
It also made me realize that when we interfere in every single argument our children have, we are denying them the opportunity to fully learn from it. We may also be causing blowback if we handle the situation poorly.
Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Flame_of_fire.jpg
Are you familiar with the term “blowback”? Side note: I’m a fan of Ron Paul. There, I said it. Don’t hate me. Blowback is a term he uses to describe the unintended consequences of meddling in the affairs of other countries. I believe this term is directly applicable to meddling in the affairs of our children. When we stick our noses in every argument, there WILL be unintended consequences. Why make ourselves the bad guy when we don’t have to be? Not to mention the damage we may cause if one child feels that we are repeatedly favoring another? Ok…that being said, let’s get to the list.
FOUR WAYS TO COPE WHEN YOUR KIDS ARE AT EACH OTHER’S THROATS
1) When your children get into an argument, repeat the following: “This is not about me.” Although your kids may be flipping their lid, you don’t have to.
2) Take a deep breath. Then say, “This is not about me” one more time, just for good measure.
3) Offer a simple limited choice, “I can see you two (or three, or whatever) are upset. Do you need my help to resolve this, or can you handle it on your own?” (If your kids are like mine and the prospect of my getting involved means sitting on the “Friendship Bench” and holding hands for a while, they will most likely decide to resolve it on their own.)
4) Have a list – like a real, paper, printed-out-and-hung-on-the-fridge type of list – of possible solutions that you AND YOUR CHILDREN have come up with ahead of time. Practice these methods of conflict resolution when the upstairs brain is in control. So really, I cheated a little because the “Fourth Way to Cope” really consists of a myriad of ways. But the goal is to have possible solutions decided upon ahead of time. Only then do we stand a chance of ever accessing them when our lids are momentarily flipped.
We have a family meeting every Monday night, and I am really excited to talk with my kids tonight about what we can do when we get into arguments with one another, and when we feel our lids starting to flip. I’m excited to tell them that I will not be responsible for solving all of their problems. I’m looking forward to teaching them, training them a little, and then turning over the responsibility to them.
Because really, that is exactly where it belongs.