More, and comments on settling kids' fights

On AlwaysLearning, October 2004, responses to another mom's request for assistance with a problem:

I've already tried to do the "controlling" thing by sending them to cool off or taking something away when this happens. Ok, obviously a hell of alot of good that approach did, LOL! I felt horrible after trying to manipulate them this way and they had hurt feelings with me acting in such a manner as well.

It's got to be hard to do with two younger kids, but if you take him aside *with you* instead of sending him away it might be more helpful sometimes. (But something you need to stay with the more wounded party, too, I know.)

Kirby was our worst offender at saying something hurtful. And it's hard (I remember myself) being an only (or in your child's case, a younger) and then being displaced before you were ready to give up your special mom-closeness.

I would take Kirby aside and let him vent to me. I'd ask him why he was frustrated, or why he was tired, or "are you hungry?" "are you feeling sick?" and basically debrief him sympathetically, but at the same time help him form his own checklist of "what's my problem?" (There are adults who could use an inner "what's my problem?" checklist. I'm glad to have started developing one myself, about the time I was 30. Before that, if I was angry I thought I was entirely justified in being angry, and all factors were outside of me; I got better.)

I have said to all my kids, but mostly Kirby on that case by case basis, that I'm sorry if I have ever hurt them with words and made a bad memory they will have always, and I'm sorry for some things I said to my sister when we were little, that I could never ever take back. I would say that thinking something mean without saying it is better than saying it, if he could help it.

One of my main principles has been that it's my job to protect the peace of each of my children in his or her own home insofar as I can. I'm not just here to protect them from outsiders, axe-murderers and boogie-men of whatever real or imagined sort, but from each other as well.

It makes me crazy when I hear a mom say "They need to learn to work these things out for themselves." It's such cop-out, and such disregard for both the underdog kid AND the bullying kid, who is learning clearly that he can get away with what he can get away with, and his mother isn't going to interfere because she doesn't know or care how to make peace.

But then what about families where the mom really doesn't know how to make peace? Maybe then it's good to have rules and time-outs so the peace kind of keeps itself a little more. But I think if she can gain more peacemaking tools, it's better for everyone.

One thing he resorts to is saying things like "I hate you" or "I'll kill you", "stupid", "shutup", etc. Unfortunately, some time back I have made the mistake of giving these phrases WAY too much power, but they are a hot button for me and my intelligent children certainly know it.
I think the phrases do have power.

My husband is a big strong guy and learned early in his life that he had to literally and figuratively pull his punches. He COULD kill someone, and so he had to learn to be patient and gentle, and to learn how to calm himself. And all people who are trained to kill need (theoretically and ideally) to also learn how not to WANT to kill, and not to pull it out except in the direst emergency.

A desire to kill, with or without the knowledge and ability, isn't a healing, soothing, thing.

I would recommend putting him in a martial arts class with a teacher who stresses control and patience. When Kirby wanted to take karate, I called around and visited until I found a school that seemed peaceful and philosophical and historical, not all street-fighting-technique and tournament preparation. And so now Kirby can take another person down without really thinking about it hard, but he has never laid a hand on another person (past when he was quite younger and would try to strongarm Marty out of his room or away from his stuff).

Also, when their father gets mad, he tends to let things build up and then "explode" in the same way, and he is known to say hurtful things to me and the children
What we saw in Kirby, we countered earliest with breathing.
"Take a deep breath, Kirby and then when you calm down tell us what happened."

First the calming down, and then the report/complaint.

Here's a more detailed account of the best way I found to deal with disputes with kids. After me writing it several times, someone pressed me to put it out one more time so I didn't just get tired of reporting it.


It just seems like things are spiraling out of control with this issue, and my husband is blaming it all on me because "I just let the kids do whatever they want without teaching them any respect". . . .
I felt horrible after trying to manipulate them this way.
Personally, I think it's a mother's job to manipulate the feelings of children who are being hurtful to others. Your other children are counting on you to make things better. And those thoughts and meanness are coming from something real inside him that he needs to learn to control. Spanking him will make it worse. Saying mean awful things to him too will make it worse. Punishments and groundings and limits might make it worse. But if you can figure out what to say to help him change his thinking, that could make it better. Helping him think about times he was hurt by others' words, or helping him find any sort of self-comfort, self-restraint tricks of his own are better for him, for you, for your husband, and for the other kids. Better for the neighbors. Better for your son's future wife and children.

Karate, if you can manage it. Maybe today.
I really think it could help.


Danielle C, to the same mom:

My kids are 7, 5 and 4, and my 4 yo is extremely intense and explosive, very much like you describe. When he was younger, much of his anger would come out as aggression. Now that he's a bit older, he has shifted into verbal aggression, which is a step better, but still aggression nonetheless. Part of my job as a mother, I believe, is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for *all* my children, and it breaks my heart that there are times when it's a sibling I must protect them from. It's so much easier when it's us against the world! *g*

I didn't reply to you right away because I've been dealing with this very issue myself and had no words of wisdom. I was soul-sick and looking for my own support... I still have no words or wisdom, but I do now have the energy to commiserate and share some of what we're trying to do here.

I have to say that my guy's rage seems to come in cycles. Things will be really good for a while, then really bad for a while. I'm still not quite sure what sends him into a tailspin. It may be that we get too busy and stop honoring his need for down time; it may just be that he has a threshold and once crossed needs to blow off steam for a while.

I agree that controlling and time-outs don't work—in fact it escalates the behavior. I discovered a long time ago, that walking away from my guy while he was in one of his rages was the worst thing I could do to him. The fear behind his eyes cut to my heart, and I could see that I was abandoning him when he needed me most. That need can be difficult to see when he doesn't want a hug or any kind of nurturing that I might try to give, but the need is for my presence to reassure him that he is not alone and that he is loved and that I will be there for him when he is ready to be loved.

When Sam says hateful things, my response is often, "Please don't hurt me/Em/ Julia with your words. You must feel really mad to have to get it out like that, and you just need to get that hurt out, huh? Is there something I can do to help?" Yes, lots of times the response is a guttural, back of the throat scream or a stick the tongue out raspberry. Some of the time, it's a melting, "Yes, sorry mama" and curl up in my lap. I wish I could make the latter response the norm, but that's up to him not me.

I think the important thing with small kids is just being there to calmly, gently, immediately intervene, letting them all know that this is not how people can be treated within the family. Reasoning with Sam when he's raging is impossible, but talking with him after the fact about his need for respect and the need for respect to work both ways is, I believe, helpful for the long run if not the immediate moment. With younger children I really do believe that much of the work we do is groundwork, the effects of which are long term rather than short term. . . . .

Hope this is a bit helpful.


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