When your children argue, their shouting and screaming might drive you up the wall. You might be tempted to get annoyed yourself and break up the fight. However it is a great opportunity to teach them how to handle conflict and how to resolve differences. If you can take a deep breath and be patient, you can show them some really valuable life skills. Here are some tips on how to intervene creatively:
1. Allow your children to have differences and do not intervene if you can hear that they are working it out for themselves. If what you hear tells you that they are stuck or that emotions are becoming unhelpful or dangerous, go to them. This is your opportunity to teach good confrontation skills.
2. Don’t get drawn in to the argument, or take sides, no matter how much they try to make you! Voice what you are seeing and hearing. “I can hear you’re getting really angry with each other. What’s going on?” If someone storms off, say: “Anna’s so angry she’s left and I can see that you’re still here to sort it out Daniel.” Wait, she might come back. If not, see if they want to talk it through another time.
3. Offer to help – Don’t be surprised by the intensity of their emotions. Restate what each child has said so everyone can hear. Make sure you get the message and the feeling behind it. “Anna is furious because she says you grabbed the remote and switched her programme over.” Make sure you match the strength of her feeling, so that Anna knows she has been heard accurately. Be careful not to include your own judgements or opinions. Stop and listen. “Daniel says you wouldn’t give him the remote and he’s cross because it was his turn.”
By restating your children’s messages, you’re allowing them to hear each other and themselves. This increases understanding. It allows them to empathise with each other and to “self-regulate” (calm down). Their emotional temperature should reduce, although this may take time. The aim is to move them from a heated emotions into problem solving. Be patient and keep listening and restating, until they start to come up with some ideas for solutions.