There are days when I wish at least one of my children were a wallflower. Not a sentence most moms would utter, I know, but it would be so nice to just be absolutely sure that I am not gong to have the kind of conversations I have (repeatedly) had today telling me about what my sons did yesterday on the bus. Oh, I know my boys are not angels, and I know they definitely had a large part in the goings-on, but you know what else I know? Two things. A: there are multiple sides to every story; and B: other than making my sons take responsibility for what wrong they may have wrought, this is not my place to say anything at all. I believe parents should NOT take on their kids’ battles. How is my child going to learn how to deal with conflicts on his own if I am always going to be the one to do it for him? There will be countless times when someone will want what he wants, do something he doesn’t like, bump heads with him, or just be ornery. I can’t make all of that go away. I can, however, teach him how to deal with it effectively and without being mean.
Okay, so tell me: just what did my son(s?) do that was so bad? Did he physically hurt someone? Did he call someone hurtful names? Did he cause injury to another or lie? Or did he act like a little boy might, tease a little girl or two, and did they not dish it back full-force because that is what little boys and girls do? Sounds like a normal childhood interaction to me, not an altercation we big people need to get bent out of shape over.
This is when we need to back off, friends. This is when your kids are learning how to work things out for themselves. There is no big overshadowing wrong being committed here; this is just kids figuring things out, and no one is going to be hurt because kids are, for the most part, good kids. They don’t want to hurt another person. They want to be just and kind and fair and … nice. Want to know why? Because this is what they see you do every single day and there is no other person on this planet that your child wants to be more like than you.
Want to know why else moms and dads shouldn’t be in on this conversation? Because, as much as you’d like to be, you are not always going to be around them when a wrong befalls them, so they have to learn how to deal with things fairly and justly and kindly all by themselves. Relax. They can do it. When moms and dads take over their child’s argument/issue/situation, they are unintentionally communicating to their child that they do not believe they are capable of doing this for themselves. Through these battles, kids learn how to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts. This not only improves their self-esteem, but also helps them feel empowered. These are all good things, and part of normal healthy growth and development.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t situations where a parent should intervene. Yes, and I’m sorry, I’m not going to detail every single one of them. A bullying situation or one in which your child feels endangered, by all means, speak up. But personality jousting by three eldest siblings? Hmm. Maybe not.
What’s a mom or dad to do?
1. Empathize and offer emotional support. Let your child know you hear them, understand how they are feeling and will listen to them talk about their situation.
2. Help your child process their emotions. They need to understand what they are feeling. Not just mad, because mad colors a lot of different feelings, and overshadows less in-your-face emotions like embarrassment or hurt. Once the mad is out of the way, help them to put things into perspective and to try to see the bigger picture.
3. Be a good role model. Yup, there it is. No more sore loser, bad-mouth yelling when you don’t win a game or get cut-off while driving. Doh! Model appropriate conflict resolution skills for them to emulate. Watching you and how you interact with other people is one of the key ways your children learn their interpersonal skills. No pressure.
4. Help them to own effective conflict resolution skills. Be this from role-playing, repeated conversations, from sibling interactions or regular parent-child coaching, help them understand what they need to do to resolve conflict. They won’t do it like you do it, but they will (eventually) know what works best for them. And then step back and let them do it.
Friends, you think sending off that snarky email is going to make things better for your child? No. It might make you feel better, but it isn’t going to give your child the life skills they need to be successful in life. Communication skills are important; let your child develop his own. Save the snarky comments for your spouse. They will likely find them entertaining.