Recently, my parenting focus has been on discovering peaceful responses to juvenile spats. Whether your children have only seen a safe home environment or are recovering from parenting trauma, finding ways to teach self-regulation and emotional intelligence can be very challenging. Here are a few suggestions that have helped me.
1. When my children are fighting, we pause, and I play Bob Marley’s “One Day” on YouTube. Yes, we were going to eat popsicles, but we will wait three minutes until this song plays out. The choral version by Matisyahu is one of our favorites. Recently, while standing in a long line at an aquarium, the 7-year-old and 9-year-old got into it. Apparently, one was standing too close, and the other was breathing too loudly. We sat down on the public floor, and I played the song. The line moved as the song was finishing up. So when we got to the front of the line and had to wait for the next group to enter, it gave us the opportunity to talk about why we listen to that song so much.
All my life I’ve been waitin’ for
I’ve been prayin’ for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There’ll be no more war
And our children will play…
We don’t move until the song is over, because the song teaches that you cannot play until there is no more fighting. Obviously, there are times when you cannot pause and play a song, but when we are on their time, they understand that this reset method helps them change the channel from frustration and contention to cooperation and agreement. Sometimes, they end the time singing along, and at random moments, I hear one of them humming the tune while brushing her teeth or carrying his dinner dishes to the sink.
2. Recently, when attitudes seemed bent toward negativity, the song wasn’t enough. So we showed up at a pond with fishing poles, and despite the fact that neither wanted to stand in the heat, I set a timer on my phone. I told them we would go home after 10 minutes without complaining and speaking nastily to each other. I had to reset the timer several times, and each time, I told them why. By the time we had turned over a log to collect worms, gone to the opposite side of the pond, and started baiting hooks, the 10 minutes had restarted at least seven times. The timer wasn’t played out till we had cast out our lines and the tranquility of the water had calmed them. Maybe having fishing poles in your trunk is not an option, or maybe you just don’t enjoy that activity, but there is something in nature that you can do with a short timer. When it beeped that day, both children groaned with disappointment and asked to stay longer. The punishment became family time, even though it delayed their lunch.
3. For children who need a more punitive system, try delaying gratification. I tell my children that screen time does not start until after 2 p.m., and for every major infraction — like pushing or name-calling — I delay the start of screen time a half hour. It’s gotten to the point where I no longer have to tell the child why. I just say 2:30, and they instinctively know that it is an immediate response to their behavior. This consequence makes them think, because later when one starts screen time at 2 p.m. and the other has to wait, it allows for them to remember why. There have been days when their screen time is delayed several times, and this is problematic when we have the rule that there’s no screen time after dinner. The closer to dinner time we get, the more they realize that they may miss out on their favorite activity if they don’t choose peace.
Harmony and positivity must be expected and practiced. Lectures help, but songs are more fun. A short physical activity or time in nature helps children to realize that life — despite frustrations — can be enjoyed. Delaying gratification may be punishment, but it can also be time together, and it’s each child’s choice to fix the situation. Play happens when war stops.
By Yaki Cahoon