Everyday Parenting: What Are Your Kids REALLY Fighting About?
This post is part of a series documenting everyday respectful parenting moments. Reading real life parenting examples inspires me. I also find it helpful to look back on situations and think about what went well or what didn’t. Maybe you will too!
“GIVE IT BAAAAAAAAACCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKK!!!!!!”
A scream from the back of the car. Very loud in an enclosed space, which instantly irritates me and makes it harder to stay calm.
“No, I’m not giving it back!”
“It’s MINE! You took it from me! Mum, she took my ribbon!”
These moments are frustrating and I just want to tell her ‘give the ribbon back right now!’ so I internally adjust my perspective. ‘All behaviour is communication, they need my help right now not my judgement and control, they are capable of working this out with my support’, I tell myself.
Me: “She took your ribbon and you really want it back?”
“No! I’m not giving it back!”
Me: “Who does the ribbon belong to?”
Me: “But you don’t want to give it back to her?”
Me: “Are you feeling angry?”
No response (which I take to mean I’m right).
“I really want it back!! It’s mine!! It’s not fair!” (crying now)
Me: “You’re really upset. You really want your ribbon back”
“I had it first and it’s mine”
Me: “The ribbon belongs to her. Would you be able to pass it back?”
“NO! I don’t want to!”
Me: “You’re upset?”
“No! I’m not upset”
Me: “You sound angry and frustrated”
“It’s just….when we were at the pool she kept on pushing me in the water and I wanted her to stop but she wouldn’t stop!”
Me: “You’re feeling frustrated about something that happened at the pool earlier?”
“She just kept pushing me! Even when I was trying to get away from her.”
“Well you didn’t say stop!”
“Well I didn’t feel like saying stop. But I was OBVIOUSLY trying to get away from you so you should know that I didn’t like it!”
“Well I didn’t know! You didn’t say stop!”
“Well it was obvious!”
“But the other day we were playing that game at the pool and we were both pushing and you liked it so how would I know today you wouldn’t like it?”
“Well I was trying to get away!”
Me: “It sounds like you both had different ideas about what was happening. You wanted her to stop, but she thought you were just playing. I wonder what you could do in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I don’t know. Maybe say stop?”
Me: “You could be sure to say stop so she knows you’re not enjoying the game?”
“We could check if we want to play?”
Me: “You could ask if the other person wants to play before you start.”
“Can I have my ribbon back now?”
Me: “She would really like her ribbon back”
If I had of let my frustration take over and demanded she give her the ribbon back RIGHT NOW, I would have missed something important here. Miss 5 had something she needed to resolve but didn’t know how to bring it up now that the moment had passed. So she showed me. She snatched something off her sister because she was angry with her. To me it was seemingly out of nowhere, having not witnessed the pool incident. But it’s my job to figure out the ‘why’s’ instead of reacting to the behaviour. It’s my job to show them more effective and appropriate ways of dealing with these situations. I can’t do that if I just get mad!
If you listen carefully, there is always a message being communicated through your child’s behaviour. And it is SUCH a gift when they feel safe enough to express it to you. You get to know and understand them that little bit better, and they learn that they can always confide in you. Sibling fights can be frustrating and hard to deal with, but when you respond calmly everyone benefits and connections deepen.
“Children don’t ‘mis’behave. They behave, either positively or negatively, to communicate. Small children communicate through their behavior because that is the only method of communication they have. Even when they become verbal, though, they still aren’t able to articulate big feelings and subtle problems well verbally, so as parents it’s our role to ‘listen between the lines’ of our children’s behavior to discern the need being communicated.”
– L.R. Knost
This, Sara, is amazing and so very helpful! I can’t thank you enough for sharing!
I’m so glad it resonated with you ?
The first step is developing the patience to do this! It’s hard sometimes to talk, when one of the children is screaming at the top of her lungs and can’t hear you 🙁
Nice read. I hope to do good at this communication thing as well as you seem to
Wow!! Thank you so much!! My grandbabies haven’t gotten to this point yet, since PPJr is only 8 months, but there are times PP has a fit. I need to stay calm, and help help figure it out. Thank you!!!
If i never had these communication with my kids, they are 12, 10 and 8 years old, do you think, if I changed, if i try to “listen between the lines” and my behavior changes and i speak with them like you recommended … did them going to change? Because i think they only react if i shout and treat.
I think it is absolutely never too late to start working on connection. I suggest reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. AMAZING book ?
Thank you for the recommendation of the book. Thank you for the blog. There are so many books about parenting that I really don’t know where to begin. I have 4 children, the eldest being 21 then 8,7 and 1.7yrs old. Reading your blogs has given me hope and also a reality check with our current family dynamic. It’s been a very challenging couple of years and since validating that I need time for myself (only in the past week) to be able to function with love and patience and also to set an example for all my children when they will one day have their own families, it’s been a huge weight off my shoulders. I have been more patient with them and also taken the time to see how disconnected I’ve become with my children. It’s time to reconnect. I’m hoping and praying that I will be able to reconnect and make our journey together happy and joyous again as a family.
Thank you for this specific example. It really helps me to think through what I can say, such as verbal mirroring, when we have disagreements and fights. This is very helpful.
I am wondering what kind of activities do you do with your toddlers? They probably follow their bigger sisters but I also have a three year old boy and he’s not really interested in coloring or painting. He just really likes to sword fight lol. A suggestion for a new post could be maybe unschooling toddlers?
Love your blog and your insight!
This is really relevant for adults as well, I wish children were taught to listen and express themselves clearly like this from the beginning.
I find it SO hard to drive and manage this kind of conversation at the same time. I usually do end up shouting for everyone to be quiet so I can drive safely, especially when on unfamiliar roads or motorways where I cant safely pull in. I absolutely understand the the principle of this conversation, but putting it into practice in that kind of scenario is very hard, especially when both kids are shouting. But out of the car – yes, this approach has worked wonders for all of us!