There's a lot of stuff flying around my world lately about how I handle contentious situations between my children.
The call to Recognize and Address this issue has come to me through many mediums - friends have discussed it (their own trials), I've written a bit about it, and today another friend wrote about something that happened just yesterday, and how when she was still stumbling with "what to do?" her little four year old handled the situation beautifully, simply by showing curiosity, empathy, and kindness.
I certainly can't say the same for myself. Apparently this would be good time to change my ways.
I typically handle squabbles in an accusatory manner. "What's going on?" in a good moment, and more like "What the hell is going on?" in a particularly bad one.
Not on purpose, but when I hear the baby cry out - often she's been poked in the eye, metaphorically speaking.
Usually the shouts or screams will determine how intensely I react.
What I need to do - what I am being called to Recognize and Address is far different.
I think I need begin somewhere near "Is there anything I can help with, Trev?". Or "are you guys all right?"
Instead of my usual rather violent manner. (accusing, inducing guilt, putting someone else in a position of defense, etc.)
It ocurred to me today that anything that is far removed from the way that we live our lives needs to go.
Why would I assume that in these particular situations my children can just be "told" something, and they'll do it? I don't do it with anything else. "You need to learn this today." "If you hold it the other way it will go further." "This way is best." Those directions are just not a part of our every day lives. I'll naturally still do things the way I do them, and if they choose to observe the efficiency, and copy the movement, or ask they will, but I don't say automatically "This way is better."
I don't necessarily even believe that it is, it just works best for me. And also I appreciate their ingenuity and creativity.
So, why would "How can you handle this better next time?" necessarily help?
I'm not saying that's a bad way to address it, necessarily - only that it isn't working.
I think a better place to begin is to work simply on empathy (my own).
Something like "Is everything alright, Trev?" gives him the opportunity to assess for himself how bad the situation really is, and he can answer accordingly. "Maddie keeps turning off the tv, and I'm trying to watch this." Or "Maddie keeps pulling my hair," or "Maddie is wrecking my dinosaur land", whatever.
And then I can respond (after I have first and foremost empathized with his plight). "It seems like Maddie is having a fun game with the tv, she really wants to play." Or "Maddie, remember to be gentle with Trelly." Or "Is there a way that you can let her play, too?," and "How can we do that?" Offering the solution to him. He often comes up with great giving and caring options.
Also, I have come to see - been blind-sided with it enough lately - that "Hey," doesn't work, no matter how gently. I need to first be on Trev's side in these matters.
Not that Maddie doesn't matter, because of course she does. The truth is, she is rarely actually hurt, and more just upset when she screams in these moments. And she is too young for us to expect from her a whole lot in the way of empathy and consideration (not quite two).
But if her examples are her family members - who all treat each other, and her, kindly and with empathy, then of course she will learn it also, she'll not know any other way.
I'm not in the slightest bit worried that if Trev bops Maddie, or snatches something from her rather violently that my loving response will only encourage his "bad behavior". First of all, he takes no pleasure in violence (why would he?) and secondly, my good and loving example of being empathetic towards him (even -especially!- when he makes a mistake) can only make him more assured of himself, make him feel more worthy of love and consideration - which will of course spill over into his relationships, and how he treats others.
It is simply the answer. It is how it must be done.
Teen age girls yelling threats and name calling over the fence to somone. (making others around them somewhat nervous.)
Little child goes up "What's going on?"
Teenage girls say "They called us Ugly, so we're fighting back!"
Little child says "I think you're beautiful."
And just like that.... the situation is over.
Teenage girls turn to play with the little child with appreciation and love in their hearts.
It is the answer. It is how it Must Be Done.