Does this scenario sound familiar?
You hear two of your kids in the other room starting to bicker. It starts out tame. They start whimpering at each other about a toy or something. You’re in your comfortable chair watching hoops on TV and not in the mood to referee, so you hope they can resolve it on their own and continue to play nicely. On the contrary, the situation escalates to screaming and tears. Time to interject. But here’s the problem, this is the third time this morning that fighting has occurred between the siblings.
So as a parent, do you go in calmly and try to Mister Rogers the situation? Nope, you go in guns blazing like Arnold Schwarzenegger in that scene from Kindergarten Cop. You feel the need to yell louder than your kids in order for them to respond.
Congratulations, you have just snapped.
It’s likely that, instead of resolving the argument between your kids in a meaningful way, you have caused more tears and deeper feelings of hurt. It’s not fun to see your kids in pain because of your own responsive actions as they sob, “Daddy, please stop yelling at me.”
Look, I’m no expert in parenting—far from it. I’m not a child psychologist. I don’t have all the answers for dealing with dueling children. But I know what it’s like to yell at my kids . . . and I hate doing it. I also know that sometimes, yelling seems like the only way to get them to respond. So what are we supposed to do? There has to be a better way. I’m not an angry person. My children are not bad kids—not even close.
I recently made a promise to myself, for the sake of my kids.
I promised to try to go seven days without yelling or snapping at them.
It was a self-imposed challenge . . . a disciplinary test on multiple levels. So, over the course of seven days, when my kids started acting out, I had to intentionally think through the best ways to lower their anxiety without raising my voice.
In most cases, I found the first thing I had to do was calmly separate them. Then, I’d kneel down to their level and speak to them directly. I tried to explain that their actions were causing upset feelings and they needed to stop. “You don’t want to hurt your sister, do you?” I would ask. That question seemed to strike a chord with each of them. I allowed them to individually plead their cases, without interruption. Then, based on the evidence presented, I might hand out a punishment that fit the crime—or simply tell them, “If the fighting continues, there will be further punishment.” But I did it all without yelling and without anger. I even hugged each of them before leaving the room.
Seven days later, what were the results? Well, first of all, it definitely took longer to resolve each issue. But it was very much worth it! Those seven days were filled with fewer tears and more smiles. I felt closer to my kids. We had a deeper understanding of each other. Surely, my blood pressure was lower that week. It was a non-anxious environment and, dare I say, we all felt a little more love in our house. It was such a good week that I tried to go another seven days, and then another. Remember, it takes 21 days to form a habit.
Here’s the thing. You have to find what works for you. Every family is different. What works for one dad might not work for another.
What’s important is to realize that even though your kids are the initial cause of fighting and arguing, you have control over the outcome and the fallout.
So try to determine your best way to handle these situations, but do it without anger. Channel your inner Fred Rogers, instead of your inner super-villain.
Speaking of Mister Rogers, here are the lyrics to that old song he used to sing on the show. Do you remember it? What a great message for kids . . . and adults.
What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel?
What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.