Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How to Quit Playing Referee for Your Kids

It was shockingly late in my tenure as a parent (I'm talking 12 years and 6 kids in to the whole business) that I learned a secret that freed me from refereeing sibling disputes forever.

Talk about life-changing.

I came across a parenting meme on Pinterest that said "Teach your child to advocate for herself" and it was like a five-alarm siren going off in my head.

Depending on the situation, that could mean a lot of things, but to me at that moment it meant I needed to stop arbitrating my kids' disputes for them, and teach them how to do it instead.

I can't believe I didn't think of this brilliant parenting idea earlier! Is it driving you crazy being the referee when your kids fight? Straight from a mom of 6, here are some simple parenting strategies to stop sibling fighting and teach children to work it out! #siblingfighting #parentingtips

My kids get along well, most of the time. They play together a lot, which is incidentally why they also fight. After all, you can't dance without stepping on some toes.

I've always believed in encouraging them to work out their disagreements, but in reality sending them away to "go work it out" wasn't very successful. 

Half the time, the bigger, stronger kid would just get his way while the other cried, or negotiations escalated to a point where I had to take away the toy they were fighting over and say that no one gets it.

I realized it wasn't enough just to tell them to work it out. They were still learning, and they needed someone to teach them.

So now when someone comes running to me sobbing "he shoved me off the couch!" or "she called me mean!" I focus on teaching them to advocate effectively for themselves.

I might ask a few questions to get a better picture of what happened, but I'm careful not to fall into the who-did-what-and-why trap. If I try to get to the bottom of things, fifteen minutes later everyone is mad (including me, by that time) and I still haven't sorted out what happened or who started it.

Instead, I call over the other kid and say "Your sister has something to say to you."

I stand nearby while they talk to each other, occasionally prompting them with a question or saying something to keep the discussion focused.

If someone turns to me and tries to address me, I redirect them by saying "Don't talk to me; talk to your brother/sister."

I'm still entering the fray, so to speak, but I'm doing it as a facilitator, not a referee  and let me tell you, that's a whole lot more freeing.

Go to your room! 5 points to Gryffindor!

You can start doing this when they're much younger than you probably think.

My 2-year-old's first impulse when he sees his brother holding a toy he wants is to snatch it or start screaming. Sometimes both. (But hey, I'll miss this someday, right?)

Instead of ordering the older brother to share or telling the 2-year-old to leave the toy alone, I tell the 2-year-old "If you want to play with that toy, you need to ask for a turn when he's done."

Sometimes he does it.

Sometimes he's too upset so I have to give him the words to use: "Can you say 'Norbert, can I have a turn when you're done?'" (My son's name isn't Norbert, I just think it's a fun name.)

Sometimes he's so worked up he can't even repeat me, so I'll model it for him: "Your brother would like to play with that toy. Can he have a turn when you're done?"

I can't tell you how many times I've watched two toddlers grappling over a toy in the sandbox at the playground when a parent swoops in saying "Look over here, let's play with this bulldozer!" Which I suppose heads off the altercation, but it doesn't teach either kid much about conflict resolution.

If they were focused on teaching, the parent of the snatch-and-grabber could've instead said something like "Right now it's her turn with the truck, but you can ask for a turn when she's done."

I can't believe I didn't think of this brilliant parenting idea earlier! Is it driving you crazy being the referee when your kids fight? Straight from a mom of 6, here are some simple parenting strategies to stop sibling fighting and teach children to work it out! #siblingrivalry #kids Alternately, the parent of the kid who had the truck first could tell the other one: "Emma is playing with the truck right now, but you can have a turn in a little bit" and then turn to his own child and ask "Emma, can you tell him he can have a turn when you're done?"

It may take many times of modeling and facilitating these prosocial behaviors, but eventually, kids will start doing them on their own. 

I promise it happens. Lately, I've even heard my 2-year-old asking for a turn instead of snatching.

Is it sometimes hard for him to wait? Heck, yes. Do I sometimes have to remind the other child to give the promised turn 10 minutes or so later? Also yes. But like I said, they're learning.

Most importantly, what they're not learning is that I moonlight as the referee around here. No way.

I'm here if they need me. But I'm here to help them work out a solution with the other kid, not to solve the problem myself.

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5 comments:

AnneMarie said...

I love this so much!!!! Thank you. I'm bookmarking this to come back to as needed, especially now that my two-year-old has recently been exhibiting more possessive tendencies (which I'm sure will continue as the baby gets more mobile).

Chaun said...

Ahhh needed this today!

Diana Dye said...

Oh man you read my mind. I was just telling my husband I feel like a referee but I know I can't just leave them to their own devices or it turns into lord of the flies. I'm going to read this every day until I get it.

Jenny Evans said...

Even though the baby won't understand, he can still practice using those words for later (or with other, older kids at the park or wherever!)

Jenny Evans said...

Lord of the Flies describes it perfectly. At least in my experience!