If Kids Fighting Makes You Mad

If Kids Fighting Makes You Mad

How can you open doors instead of slamming them when kids fighting sets you off?

I was invited to answer this question for a reader of Hands Free Mama blog. Our Q&A is reprinted below with permission, edited for brevity and clarity.

 

QUESTION:

Do you have any suggestions on how to handle sibling fighting?

 

I am a Type A, list-following, obsessive-compulsive person whose family used to suffer from my rages...I am doing pretty well at handling things on an individual basis with my girls, ages 10 and 12, but for some reason when they fight with each other, it makes me blow up! I think it has something to do with how upset it makes me when I hear them being so unkind and disrespectful towards each other. It makes me crazy, and I revert back to my rants. I slam doors and end up saying unkind things I completely regret.

 

Do you have any thoughts on how to handle those situations in the moment?

ANSWER:

The first thing to realize is that you are not alone in your struggles, your rages, and your intense commitment to move toward love and acceptance of yourself and your children.

So for starters, I have to say that if the worst thing you do when you go crazy, rant and rage is slamming doors, that shows a lot of self-control! If you don’t believe me, think back to that feeling of rage the moment right before the slam. I’ll bet there is a brief second when you actually check that the slam won’t hurt anybody and give yourself permission to let go. The part of yourself that gives you permission knows something you don’t:

Your need for power at that moment is very high, and very real, and cannot be ignored.

So choosing a door slam after a brief safety scan is not a bad choice. There are probably plenty of readers who are wishing that door slams were their worst go-to reaction. If you would rather choose something else, that’s fine, as long as it meets your need for power just as well. If it doesn’t, you’ll default to door slamming, which as I said is certainly not the worst way to blow off steam and calm down.

What you cannot do, no matter how hard you try, is NOT react to the kind of power drop which occurs when your hot buttons are pushed.

Your reactions are built into you in terms of fight, flight or freeze, all of which meet the need for power in one way or another. So rather than try to change your reaction to a hot button, it’s far more effective to change the way you see your children’s interactions, so your hot buttons are not set off.

That’s why I was happy to hear that you are aware of your hot buttons: “unkind and disrespectful.” Your daughters probably have the exact same ones. So the thing to do in the moment when they start to fight is to get everyone “present.”

Here’s how:

Hold back and observe for a moment before responding, then describe what each one WANTS without judging or fixing the problem.

What they want is what they are trying to get the other to hear and respect. What they want has to be heard for them to stop attacking each other and move into problem-solving.

Intervening by describing each child’s point of view, including what they want, is actually mediation. Here's how it sounds using Language of Listening:

SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS): “Whoa! You two are fighting! Something must be wrong.”

 

12 YO: “I don’t want her in my room. She keeps coming in and taking stuff.”

 

10 YO: “I want this.”

 

12 YO: “Mom!!! That’s mine, and I don’t want her to have it!”

 

10 YO: “But I need it, and she never lets me use it.”

 

SWYS (to each child in turn): “You (12 YO) want your stuff to stay in your room; and you (10 YO) need that and never get to use it."

 

CAN DO: " Hmm. That IS a problem! Must be something you can do that would work for both of you.”

As they offer solutions, you will learn more about what they want, so keep restating that. That way you will find out if the older child’s problem is that her sister comes into her room, takes stuff, or doesn’t ask; and if the younger child’s problem is that she needs something and doesn’t know how to get it, or if she wants her sister’s attention or yours. All of those have different solutions.

When you get to the heart of the problem, solutions become more obvious. Plus by listening and letting them solve their own problems, they learn how to get along without your intervention, which you can then point out as a STRENGTH.

If you’d like to know more, my little handbook SAY WHAT YOU SEE gives you 3 simple steps for interacting with kids without reacting. 

READER'S RESPONSE:

I can’t tell you how much your response means to me. You took the time to write such a detailed and real-life answer, which shot right to my heart like an arrow.

 

I never realized that my slamming doors (along with a few choice yelled phrases) really IS my way to gain control over a situation (and people) that I cannot control. That is why I think their fighting gets to me more than almost anything else…I am not in control.

 

What I hate about my choice to slam doors is that I feel like it shows them that I cannot control myself and if I can’t control my actions, how can I expect them to control theirs?! I usually try to ignore their fighting (freeze) to allow them a chance to work it out between them, which doesn’t usually happen, and then I blow up (fight).

 

I am going to work on intervening BEFORE those hot buttons get pushed and try to keep all of us “in the moment” as you suggested. That makes so much sense.

 

You are right, too, about mostly what my daughters are probably wanting is to be heard and respected. Since I can identify with that, I will try and make that happen to avoid it escalating to the point of no return.

 

And I will DEFINITELY be reading “Say What You See” next! Thanks so very much!

4 Comments

  1. Wow! It never ceases to amaze me the things I learn in your posts. I’ve been following (and practicing) your work for YEARS…and still I always find things that feel like I’ve never heard before.

    “What you cannot do–no matter how hard you try–is NOT react to the power drop that occurs when one of your hot buttons is pushed.”

    …and to think a part of me thought…”if I could just get a LITTLE better at not-reacting to my hot buttons, THEN I would be ok… 🙂

    I will definitely bring some thought and observation to the hot button/power drop connection. Thank you!

  2. Katherine, thank you for bringing out that point. As usual, you went straight to the heart of the article <3

    I think for me why this is such a big deal is because, like you, I used “not reacting” as some kind of measure of my self-control until I saw that proof of self-control was in the choices I made while reacting, not in whether or not I could overcome my auto-response system.

    That’s why I work so hard to show readers that there is nothing wrong with the way we are designed – not our auto-response survival systems, not our “ego,” not our emotional responses, not our humanity – nothing.

    It’s also why I feel like understanding the three basic needs that drive our behavior is so valuable. Not only do they help us survive; when harnessed, they help us thrive.

    If we really understood that we are perfect just as we are, I think we would enjoy the personal growth journey more and probably learn to trust our inner guidance systems earlier so that more of our choices and actions could be focused on creating what we like and love in the world. It’s the ultimate point of Language of Listening and the direction I believe the world is moving.

  3. Julia Kurskaya |

    I also thought that not reacting (like don’t do anything or don’t say anything that shows what you’re really feeling) is a proof of my ability to control myself. And I even managed to make myself believe that if I don’t do or say anything then my hot buttons are not pushed. Which actually was – not allowing myself to feel what I was feeling.

    Hm… I love your words about the self control that is in the choices we make. What a striking thought, Sandy! It’s not in trying very hard to hide what’s inside of me from others. It is in realizing where I am right now and respecting my need for power and then choosing a way to meet that need. Another relief after reading your post! Thank you! 🙂

  4. Julia,

    This is such a clear summary of what there is to do: “It is in realizing where I am right now and respecting my need for power and then choosing a way to meet that need.”

    Realizing, respecting and choosing. That’s it!

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me and the other readers!

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