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Monday, December 28, 2015

talking through problems with siblings : Dr. Markham's advice that WORKS

In October of this year, I attended a few sessions from an online Moms' Conference that I'd never heard of before but LOVED! It was awesome! Top notch guru speakers in the parenting field, online, where I could listen to their expert advice while sitting home in my pajamas and cleaning the kitchen (true stories!). I wish I'd been able to attend all of their sessions.

Make sure you check out their Web site s you can join in the future:

The best session I listened to was by Dr. Laura Markham, who is a leading expert in parenting, author extraordinaire. She's incredible to read from or listen to! She talked about helping your children be the best of friends, teaching them to get along. I learned SO much!

The very next day after listening to her ideas, I tried out her suggestions on being a more peaceful parent in helping kids work through problems versus just saying "stop it, separate, leave each other alone." I happily reported to my husband later that it WORKED! Like instantly, without training or taking a parenting class or even having read a book. I just listened, used what I remembered, and voila my kids responded.

I've practiced this over and over (not every time, but it's getting more natural to just start using the techniques) and it's WORKING. I'm feeling less frustrated with my two kids' arguing (ages 3 1/2 and almost 6), and they are actually working together more and more. It's amazing.

This process is not a cure-all. All kids will fight and argue and not get along, even daily this will still occur. BUT the dealing with it becomes easier, happier even, less stressful and less anger provoking for all involved, including you! I LOVE this technique and want to share it with you in hopes that it works for you.

In order to learn from the best, which I am certainly NOT, you need to read Dr. Laura Markham's two books about peaceful parenting. I wrote blog reviews on them this month, so check those out.

She also organizes this site with great articles and videos!

There are a few important steps to this process of helping our children manage their strong emotions, figuring things out for themselves, guiding them.

From her book , Peaceful Parent: HAPPY SIBLINGS, Dr. Laura Markham offers a step by step approach to being a coach and helping kids problem solve.

On page 80, she offers ideas for how to do this process that is working SO well for us!
  1. Model being calm. Take a breath.
  2. Point out that you see a problem here. 
  3. If it's an issue over a toy or something, move that object away from them so nobody is holding it. 
  4. Describe the problem. No judgment or opinion. 
  5. Get agreement from each child that yes, this is the problem they are having. 
  6. Invite them to come up with solutions. What could we do about this? Ask them.
  7. Write down solutions or restate them to the children. 
  8. Ask children which solution they could agree with. 
What works here is a lot of restating what was said, how they are feeling, and encouraging them to figure it out, but also guiding them. You are there WITH them, not disciplining them or punishing them for arguing together.

The sign: It's time to change
A few days after hearing the online session in the conference in October, my children literally played out a scenario that Dr. Markham talked about. It was a disagreement over a crayon. I took this as a sign to start using Dr. Markham's tools and try to solve this disagreement peacefully. In the past I'd probably have said "oh we have tons of crayons, use this one, move on, it's ok, be quiet" or something like many parents do daily.

Instead, I broke it down into simpler terms and tried empathizing that this was a BIG deal to them.

  • Mom: Uh oh, what is wrong? Do we have a problem here?"
  • Boy: Yes! She's taking my crayon and I NEED the red crayon now. 
  • Girl: BUT I NEED IT! (very angry)
  • Mom: Oh boy, we have a problem here, don't we? It sounds like you both need the red crayon for your pictures and we only have ONE red crayon. I wonder what we could do. 
  • Boy: I need the red crayon for my house on my picture. I need it.
  • Girl: But I need it for this girl's dress in my picture. 
  • Mom: Sounds like you both really do need the red crayon. I wonder how we could solve this problem, because there is only one crayon but two of you who need it. Does anyone have an idea?
  • Girl: I know! I could use the red crayon and give it to him when I'm done.
  • Boy: But I want it! How about I use it first?
  • Mom: Sounds like you both want to use it first. I wonder what we could do about that since there's only one crayon.
  • Boy: I know, how about it I break it in half then we'll have two crayons.
  • Girl: I know, I think I can use purple first and he can use red, but then I can use red.
  • Mom: Wow, awesome ideas. I wonder which one we can choose?
  • Boy: She can have the red one, I'll use a blue one instead for my house.
  • Girl: THANK YOU!
  • Mom: Wow, great work everyone, we solved that problem. Thanks for sharing. 
It ended with all smiles and pride from my kids who'd just solved a problem together. It took a few minutes, but nobody was yelling or crying or pouting or upset - including me! 

Be there: Connect
This process is about listening, hearing your children, helping them feel understood. It's acknowledging their struggles as though they are the most important things in the world, when really we feel like fighting over a toy or not being first in the tub or not getting what they want from the other's room is pretty petty. It's important stuff to THEM where they are developmentally, and the more we listen and reflect what we're hearing, empathizing with them that we care, the more connected we are to our children, the better they respond to us when we ask them to do things in the future.

When you repeat what you hear, that's a form of empathizing and reflecting what is happening for them. It's a key thing that we counselors do, but it's also something any great parent does. You may be doing it without even knowing it. It feels boring or awkward, but it helps.

  • Kid: I don't like to have to sit here at the table so long while my sister finishes!
  • Mom: It's hard to sit still and be patient. 
  • Kid: YES! I don't like it. I want to jump up and down instead.
  • Mom: You'd rather be playing and running and jumping wouldn't you?
  • Kid: YES! I don't want to sit here.
  • Mom: I know it is hard to sit here... we need to sit though so we can all be together as a family. I wonder if after we're done sitting for dinner, if you'd like to teach me to jump super high like you do? Would you like to do that?
  • Kid: YES! I can do that!

You're teaching problem solving skills. These are things our kids need in their daily lives at school, with peer pressure, when they are older and doing more serious things like driving a car, and of course in their lives in the future.

Daily bickering = chances to show patience, empathy and problem solve
In the middle of writing this blog post, I had to stop eating my breakfast and writing to go break up a yelling fight in the living room where my kids were playing together. NO JOKE! I was apparently being tested about what I was writing!

My son had some peanut butter crackers in a bowl. He'd just said that the Goldfish next to them wasn't his, it was his sister's. My daughter heard him say something was her's, and she thought he meant the peanut butter crackers, so now of course she wanted to eat them, too. Her brother got angry because she took a cracker from his bowl without asking. This is when I stepped in, hearing them yelling at each other.

  • Mom: What's going on in here? 
  • Boy: (very frustrated tone, physically upset) She's taking my crackers! She just took it without asking me! They're mine! 
  • Girl: They're mine! Give me them!
  • Mom: (taking the bowl away from them) Let me hold that for a second. We have a problem here. I'd like to hear what happened. (taking each of their hands so I'm touching them and closer) So one at a time, you go first and let's listen, then you get a turn, OK? 
  • Boy: Those are my crackers and she just took them from me and was going to eat them, but they're mine, you gave them to me. (calmer voice, not yelling)
  • Mom: Oh it sounds like those were your crackers and you didn't like her just taking them away. (Boy nods) How did it make you feel when she just took them?
  • Boy: Mad! I don't like her taking my stuff.
  • Mom: I can see it made you very angry. Girl, do you see that? (she nods) OK, well, now let's hear her story... what happened, Girl?
  • Girl: He said they were mine, so I took one. I wanted to eat a cracker, too. He said they were mine. 
  • Mom: Oh, I see, when he said the Goldfish was yours, you thought he meant the peanut butter crackers. We had a miscommunication where we didn't understand. So now, Girl wants a peanut butter cracker, and you have all of them. I wonder what we should do about this problem. Does anyone know how we could solve this problem?
  • Girl: I know, I could have one of his crackers and he could have my Goldfish.
  • Boy: NO! I don't want Goldfish. I want my peanut butter crackers. 
  • Mom: Hmm... good idea, Girl, but he doesn't want those. I wonder what else we could do, because Girl has nothing right now... she really would like a peanut butter cracker.
  • Boy: I know, how about if she has her own package of peanut butter crackers and not mine?
  • Girl: I don't want a package. I just want one of your crackers. I like yours. 
  • Mom: Hmm... it sounds like she doesn't want a package herself, but only one small cracker. I don't know what we could do... do you guys know?
  • Boy: Here, Girl, you can have one of mine! (smile, calm voices)
  • Girl: Thank you, Boy! (huge grin on face, gives him a hug)
  • Mom: Wow, we solved this problem! Great teamwork everybody. Boy, thanks for sharing. I really liked seeing you do that. 
The whole exchange took about 3-4 minutes. It sounds like it took much longer... and it IS a lot more patience, energy and thinking than the typical response "Separate! I told you to stop yelling at each other, that's not nice! Apologize! Just give her your cracker! Enough!" 

It's more peaceful, happier and it's TEACHING them skills and modeling to them how to stay calm even when we're angry. It's teaching them to use their words to express emotions and then figure things out together, on their own... lifelong skills you'll hope they have in middle school, high school and beyond in life. 

I admit: YES it's work. It feels like MORE work at first... BUT I swear to you it FEELS better than yelling, snapping or losing your patience after the 700th fight of the day. It connects you to your children, which is something Dr. Markham is all about. 

I swear to you it works! 

Give it a try! 

You won't use it every time at first, and that's OK. But the more you practice it and even teach it to your partner, the more likely your kids will be to start using it on their own.

I now hear my two children saying, "I know, how about we solve this problem like this... I have a great idea, what about we do this?" with smiles on their faces versus anger and arguing. It's only been loosely two months of me doing this and only me using it, I haven't yet showed it to my husband, and it's already making a difference in our household with sibling rivalry and getting along better. 

Here is an awesome video I found on working through problems with your child individually:

All of her videos are a minute or so long, they're great and easy to watch!

I hope this helps you add a little more peace into your parenting repertoire! Happy problem-solving, Moms!

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