As many of you know, I have a pretty busy family life. (Like you too, I’m sure!) I have 3 young boys and a baby daughter. Last week, I realized that I spend a great deal of personal energy engaging in verbal entanglements at home. (AKA arguments!) Sometimes I am mediating a disagreement between brothers, other times I’m trying to keep a 3rd brother out of a fight between the other two, and then there are the times that I find myself arguing with one or two of the boys myself. (Our little girl is not really verbal yet, so for that reason she is excluded from this particular topic, for the time being.)
I started wondering if I could figure out a way to reduce the amount of fights that were going on. (I believe my exact thought was – “what am I doing wrong that my boys are acting like wild animals?”) I deduced that perhaps I could find a way to teach them to choose a different path, in at least some of their conversations. Particularly, I wanted to coach them to de-escalate a conversation rather than escalate the conflict.
Of course, being 11 and under I had to find the right way (brief and specific) to explain all of this to them. In my second attempt – the first time I got a lot of blank stares – I gave them 4 parts to de-escalating a conversation.
1. Identify that you can choose what role to play. You are a part of this conversation and so you can choose the kind energy and words you to bring to it. You can intentionally listen and seek to understand or you can knock everyone over with your thoughts and ideas, leaving little room for the other’s perspective. You cannot control what the other person will say, but you are in charge of your part.
2. How is more important than what. This is a big one in our house. Tone matters. In fact, it trumps the actual words you pick. “Hey, why did you do that?” can be taken to be accusatory and judgmental or it can be light and full of curiousity, depending on how you say it.
3. Avoid fire starters. There are 2 things that are guaranteed to add fire to an already heated argument: blame and names. Don’t look to blame the other. Typically, there’s enough of that to go around; you included. And telling the other person what they did doesn’t usually help bring them to your side of the argument. Don’t pick now as the time to try out a new nickname. Adding hurt to the equation will certainly take the fight to an emotional rather than rational plain.
4. Focus on the solution. Trying to one-up the other person is a waste of time. Eventually, you may get the last word but the original cause of the conflict will be so far out of sight it will be hard to resolve and you will likely have new things to work out.
So, is any of this making a difference? It’s a bit early to tell, but I’m hoping it will! At dinner last night, my oldest son volunteered “Mom, I wasn't trying to start anything.” At least I know one of my wild animals was listening. It’s a start.