Are your kids fighting all the time and driving you crazy?
In the last post we learned how to “Be Switzerland” when intervening in a sibling fight (and why intervening is a good idea.) The next step is to help your children find win/win solutions.
Let’s pick up where we left off: Your children are fighting over a Lego guy.
You’ve just given each child a chance to tell their side of the fight (without interruptions!) and have restated what they said to make sure everyone is on the same page. No saying your opinions! Remember you are Switzerland!
Keep listening and asking for clarification until each child feels heard and understood.
Next step: Now you are going to help them find a win/win solution. A win/win solution is a solution that is acceptable to both parties and agreed on by both parties.
Parent: “Wow it does sound like a problem. You both want to play with the same guy. Who has an idea for how we can work this out? I’m going to write down all the ideas.”
At this point we will likely hear each brother say that he should get the guy. Rinse and repeat the exchange below.
Brother #1: “I should have it.”
Parent writes down ‘Brother #1 gets guy.’
Parent asks: “Brother #2- Does that idea work for you?” “No? Okay let’s keep thinking of ideas.”
At this point the brothers should start to give some other ideas. Write each one down.
Parent: “Does that idea work for both of you? No? Okay let’s keep thinking.”
Children come up with amazing and creative solutions when given the chance.
One mom I work with was shocked the first time she used this strategy. Her children were fighting over who got to be at the front of the box train they were making. At this stage of the mediation, one child said, “I know! The train can have 2 engines!” The children both agreed that it was a great solution and they went off to play.
Another parent reported that her kids had the idea to break a crayon in half when both children wanted the same colour.
In both of these instances, the parents were pleasantly surprised that their children were not only able to think of a win/win solution, but were so creative in their outside-the-box ideas. Likely no parent would ever have thought of those solutions, and if we did the children would probably have said no. The best win/win solutions are suggested by the children themselves, but we need to help them get there.
Back to our Lego guy brothers: Keep asking for ideas and writing them down. “Does that idea work for you?”
Perhaps the brothers will suggest a time share, or suggest that no one gets it. (Surprisingly this often works for children.) Maybe one will decide he can use the other similar guy.
When you have a deal- your win/win solution. Get each child to shake on it.
The more you do this with your kids, the more they will be able to do this without you! I remember when my kids were little I would often hear, “How ‘bout…” as they made suggestions to each other.
If no one can think of a win/win solution?
You have a few options. You can make a suggestion with “I wonder…” Sometimes children need practice and scaffolded support to think of creative win/win solutions when they are just starting the process of finding win/win solutions. The best win/win solutions are suggested by the children themselves but they may need help when you first start using this method.
At a very last resort, you might need to hold on to the toy in question (or no one gets to watch a show if they can’t agree, or whatever the situation is.) But if you have to do this- you are doing it to support them, not to make anyone feel bad. It’s not a punishment! “I’m really sorry this is so hard! You two are having such a hard time figuring this out. I’ll hold on to the guy until we can think of a solution.” Or “You know if we can’t agree on what to watch, we can’t watch anything at all. Let me know if you have any other ideas for a win/win solution. Until then I think I’ll hold on to the remote control.” There is no punishment, there is no shaming- you really want to help them figure out what to do!
If your children have been physically fighting or are otherwise very upset, you won’t be able to find a win/win solution until they are calm and no longer hijacked by their fight-or-flight physical reactions.
Soothe your children with your words: “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to work things out. I know this is really hard. Let’s all calm down and take some deep breaths.” Wrap an arm around each one. “Looks like you guys are having such a hard time- you both look like you need a hug.”
It’s possible that you might all need to take a little space from each other. “Let’s all take 5 minutes to cool down. I’ll set a timer and we can meet back here in 5 minutes to work this out.”
It’s possible that one or both of your children might just need a good cry! (more on that in the 4th and final installment of this series.)
You might be thinking, “This strategy sounds like it takes a lot of time!”
Yes, it does. But I will remind you that the constant fighting and refereeing also take a lot of time (possibly more.)
And the more you practice finding win/win solutions with your children, the better they will get at doing it on their own.
When you intervene in a fight and help them find win/win solutions, you are not only helping them solve sibling fights- you are giving them amazing conflict negotiation skills they will use for the rest of their lives.
Want to see this approach in action? Check out the next post!
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Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 10, 13, and 16). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah is an API certified parenting educator and is certified by Dr. Laura Markham as an Aha! Peaceful Parenting Coach. Join her Facebook group for amazing support from other parents also on this journey or find her at sarahrosensweet.com.