Holidays are a great time for families and extended families to get together and strengthen their relationships with each other. During the festivities parents may talk and laugh together while kids play and run around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Occasionally, in the midst of a conversation, a parent or two will hear screaming accompanied by one or more children crying. As loving parents often do, a parent may rush into the scene to find out what happened and to make things right.
“Billy hit me” Tommy blurts out.
“That’s because Tommy took my toy I got for Christmas” Billy retorts.
“Well, he’s not sharing” Tommy replies.
The parent, in wisdom, states, “Well it’s never okay to hit. Now Billy, say you’re sorry.”
“But Tommy’s not sharing!”
“Well, it’s his toy and he can choose to share with you or not. Now, say you’re sorry Billy.”
“No! I don’t want to!”
“Billy, if you don’t say you’re sorry, then you will go to time out and you won’t get any dessert tonight” The parent says with authority.
Meanwhile, Tommy hides behind the parent with a pathetic look on his face as if he had been hit by Mike Tyson.
“This isn’t fair!” Billy exclaims.
“Billy, say you’re sorry now!” The parent commands.
“Sorry.” Billy says in a snood and uncompassionate tone of voice.
“Say it like you mean it or you’re going to time out right now!” The parent demands.
“Fine, I’m sorry.” Billy states with a smidgen more of emotions that seems to be good enough to satisfy the parent.
“Good! Now it if happens again come and tell me, but don’t hit. Now run along and go play,” the parent says with a look of accomplishment and pleasure for solving the quarrel.
Problem solved right? Well, the immediate problem seems to be handled, but let’s take a look at some of the messages this situation, and other well-intentioned interventions, may send to the kids.
Some parents take a less dramatic, less authority driven approach. When approaching the situation and finding out that the kids are not sharing and they are hitting each other, a parent might say something like, “What can you guys do to make things better?” Will this phase magically make things all better? Probably not. The kids will most likely continue to blame each other. Then the parent can just repeat the same phrase by saying, “I understand what happened, now what can you guys do to make things better?” If repeating the phrase again doesn’t work a parent might follow it up with, "Would you like some ideas?" or "I’ll just have each of you sit in a different room until you figure out how you can make things better."
What messages might the parent in who handles it this way send to the kids? How about:
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best in helping your kids learn to solve their problems in healthy ways on their own.
Shiloh Lundahl, LMSW