Oh my God, it’s summer and the kids are home for two months! As my kids age, things have been getting worse. They can’t share, they constantly argue about everything and I can only do so much. I’m feeling worn out already and the summer’s just begun. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Hey fellow parent, raising children is the toughest job anyone will ever have isn’t it? Ultimately, I think it’s important to acknowledge what your vision is as a family unit, so that you can remind your children of this when things get heated. What do you collectively value most? How do you want each member to feel?
In our family, it’s important that we all feel safe, loved and heard as we grow together as a functional unit. This isn’t to say that arguments never happen, they do and sometimes they’re nasty. But there has been a central communication model that has helped to turn explosive fights into minor speedbumps. This structure for dealing with a disagreement empowers children to handle it themselves and liberates parents from having to constantly intervene at every turn.
Here is the step-by-step process for arguing skillfully:
1. What happened?
Stop and allow each person to briefly share their viewpoint of the situation. Be sure to leave blame out of the conversation by stating facts as much as possible. For example, “I was shooting hoops when you came along and stole my ball.”
2. How are you feeling?
After sharing their observations about what happened, they can express how the situation made them feel. For example, “I am feeling super angry and frustrated.”
3. What do you need?
Usually when an argument arises, it’s because someone’s needs are not being met. This step gives each person an opportunity to share what they need in order to feel OK again. For example, “I need my ball back so I can finish my game.”
Stating a need may also include a request, like a specific behaviour from the other person, like, “Can you ask permission next time, instead of just taking the ball?” This request can either be met by the other person or not. If yes, great, life can continue on with greater understanding of each other’s needs. If no, then intervention from an adult may be necessary in order to find resolution.
4. Shake on it.
This is where children shake hands and move on to playing together or, if they are close siblings, they can hug and remember how much they love each other.
In today’s world of reality TV and toxic political discourse, our children are watching communication styles that breed distrust and perpetuate discord. That’s why it is so crucial that we teach and, of course, demonstrate to our children how to argue respectfully and communicate mindfully. Therefore, this model can be practised by the whole family, including us parents!
I feel your pain, as we face the same challenges daily, even with all the negotiation skills we have. Personally, I notice when I am really depleted, my kids’ behaviour seems worse. When I step back, I realize that my fatigue is causing me to react more hastily. This awareness gives me the power to see the situation from a greater perspective, potentially preventing me from lashing out and emotionally injuring those I love.
In our fast-paced lifestyle, we can get caught into thinking we have to have instant solutions to every issue. But taking some space is a great way of ensuring that your leadership style aligns with your ideal vision of yourself as a parent. Like the Instagram posts of mom hiding in the tub or dad escaping to the wood shed, sometimes stepping away for a few moments to regain composure is the best course of action if you find yourself too worn out to effectively intervene. But please let your kids know what you are doing so they don’t misinterpret your time out as abandonment. If you’re in a situation where you can’t remove yourself, like travelling in small spaces together, you can remove the source of the argument. Again, be sure to explain that you are pulling the iPad for the time being with the intent to discuss the situation later when you are calm enough to mediate the situation. Until then, invite them to find a new activity.
Raising children is a marathon, requiring a tremendous amount of energy, patience and self-control. That’s why it’s so important for you to take time to fill your own tank each day with things that nourish and uplift you. That said, when you’re planning your family vacations this summer, be sure to include time for yourself.
Finally, I strongly suggest you set up a support network of family members and friends that you can call on when you need third party help or an outside perspective. May these suggestions help you to maintain your sanity and balance this summer.
Enjoy the sun!
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Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.