Parents need to intervene when there is a power imbalance. When one child doesn’t stop and the other surrenders; when they can help resolve an issue; and when they want some peace. If you do decide to step in, keep the following tips in mind:
- Stay Calm.One of the most important things parents can do to help kids learn to manage their emotions is to stay calm themselves. Kids need to experience their parents as a “holding environment” — a safe harbor in the storm of their turbulent feelings. If you can stay calm and soothe your children, they will eventually learn to stay calm themselves, which is the first step in learning to manage their feelings.
- Don’t take sides or worry about who started the fight. Treat them the same when you intervene.
- Model civility.Say “The rule in our house is that we treat each other with kindness and respect. I hear screaming and hurting. That is not respectful, and it isn’t allowed. Can you two work this out now, or do you need time to cool off?”
- Create ground-rules.If they beg to continue to play, warn them that if you intervene again, they will be separated for a “cool-off” period.
- Teach negotiation skills. Your kids DO want to play together, they just don’t know how to work out conflicts. Your job is to teach them. So, if they aren’t too upset, move right in and model conflict resolution.
- If either child is too upset to work things out, separate them.It’s better, if you can, to listen to each child with the other one present. However, if one child is too angry and is saying mean things about the other, it is best to separate them temporarily.
- If someone is hurt, attend to their wounds with empathy(“Ouch, that must hurt.”) but don’t pass judgment on who was wrong. Resist the impulse to angrily attack the aggressor, just ignore.
- If one or both kids is too mad to sit calmly during the cool-off period, suggest an alternative method – away from the sibling – of working out his or her anger: “I know you’re mad, but we don’t hit. Use your words. You can use this marker and paper and draw me a picture of how mad you are. You can go in the bathroom and shut the door and scream about how mad you are. You can throw pillows at the couch as hard as you want. But no hitting and no hurting.”
- Once everyone is calm, call the kids together.Help them each express their feelings: “So you were really mad when Lucy wanted to play a different game.” Teach empathy by asking each child how he/she thinks the other sibling felt during the fight. Help them state their feelings and needs, listen to each other, and find a win/win resolution.
With a little prevention, clear rules, a good schedule, and intervention when needed, your children can learn to get along with each other and learn how to solve issues themselves. Always remember, however, that you are responsible for teaching them how to navigate life. Take the steps necessary to guide your children toward a harmonious relationship.