by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Your kids are playing nicely while you are cleaning up the breakfast dishes. It is 8 seconds before you hear one of them saying, “No! I want that! It’s mine!” and the other one protesting, “No, mine!”
There’s times when it feels like kids can’t seem to play for more than a minute before entering some kind of conflict. Two kids want the same thing. One wants to play trains while the other wants to play blocks. Both want to put in the last puzzle piece.
Aside from putting on your striped referee outfit and dangling a huge shiny whistle from your neck, what can you do?
You can set the stage ahead of time
Before a play date or free-play with siblings, you can ask your child,
- “What toys are you excited to share with Jane?” or
- “Let’s play nicely today. What are some things we could do to make Jane feel welcome when she comes over?”
- “If you and Jane want the same toy at the same time, what could you do?”
You can remind kids of positive responses
- “Can I have a turn when you’re done?”
- “Can we set the timer so I can have a turn?”
You can give attention when kids are going with the flow or playing nicely
- Make it a point to look up from the dishes not just when someone yells “Ow!” or “Mine!” but when everything is quiet and the kids are playing well together.
- Notice and acknowledge every time your child does share, follow, or problem-solve in a positive manner.
You can help kids reconnect after an argument
- Have them cool off.
- Have them say sorry.
- Have them give hugs.
- Have them say, “I won’t do that again” or “Next time I’ll do XYZ differently.”
You can appreciate the drama in the story
Most of us don’t like conflict. We tend to avoid it. When super-spirited kids argue, it can grate on us like nails on a chalkboard.
We can, however, come to appreciate the tremendous growth that can occur during conflicts, during the “drama in the story.” These are the times when kids learn to share, compromise, find their voices, express their feelings, work things out, and make up. The “drama” provides opportunity for kids to practice how to lead and follow, give and take, use their strength, forgive, and be compassionate.
Instead of yelling at kids for yelling, we can see their conflicts as natural opportunities for growth.
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three, is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. www.erinleyba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org To follow this blog by e mail, click the follow button on the left.