(No, I did not take a photo of them when they were in the midst of a conflict.)
How can parents set effective limits on unacceptable behavior?
One strategy we use in our family when one child has hurt another with their body or strong hurting words (like “I hate you” or “You’re not my brother”) is called “calm, practice, repair.”
Step 1: Calm: get yourself calm so you can think.
Step 2: Practice: reflect on what you did that was hurtful, what you were hoping to achieve, and practice another way of getting your needs met without hurting the other person.
Step 3: Repair: repair the relationship with the person you hurt – find a way to make them feel better or reestablish the connection between the two of you.
For a long time, an adult was always required to coach the children through the process, but now that my kids have internalized this conflict resolution strategy, sometimes they do it on their own. Here’s what it sounded like from the next room the first time I heard my kids doing “calm, practice, repair” independently. Forest was 4.5 and Darwin had just turned 7.
Darwin : Ow! You hurt my toe!
Forest: Ow, you kicked me!
Forest: Okay, fine I'll do it first.
Darwin: Do what?
Forest: Calm, practice, repair.
Forest: Now I’m calm.
Darwin: Well, why did you hurt my toe?
Forest: Because I didn't want to play PJ Masks anymore.
Darwin: Okay, well you can just say, ‘I don't want to play this anymore.’
Forest: Okay, next time I'll say, ‘I don't want to play this anymore.’ Okay now, what I can do to repair?
Darwin: Never do that again!!!
Darwin: No wait, I want you to play with me. That will make me feel better.
Forest: Okay, what should we play?
Darwin: Let’s build Legos.
Sounds unbelievable right? Even as I was listening in, I was amazed (which is why I quickly wrote it down). Does this happen every time? Of course not - we are all still practicing and learning.
Last year, both kids and I were chatting during pre-bed snuggle time. The subject of some kids at school hitting came up. Afterward, Darwin shared, “Remember when Forest used to hit a lot?” Forest responded, “Yeah, but then Mommy taught me the three steps and I stopped.”
As Forest attests, “calm, practice, repair,” can be an effective routine to stop a pattern of hurting behavior. It helps kids learn to regulate emotions, make amends, reflect on past behavior, and brainstorm alternative strategies for the future.
Do my kids stay calm and talk things out?
Often but not always.
Do I remember to use my skills in the right way at the right time?
Often but not always.
Yet there is no faster way to become a more effective communicator and parent than learning and practicing proven skills, especially when you are doing it in the context of a supportive group of others who are working toward the same goals. If this sounds like something you're after, know there are still a few spots left in both of my upcoming parenting classes. Details below.
I'm in this class right now and I LOVE IT. Sure, you could just go read the book, but for myself that wouldn't work because I'm too busy and harried for any of it to stick. Cynthia paces the material really well for a working parent's bandwidth, offers all kinds of supplemental materials that keep things engaging, and spends much of the class time walking the group through hands on practice. She's also talented at harnessing the power of peer experience - we spend a fair bit of time describing situations where we tried to apply these parenting tools (sometimes successfully, sometimes not!) and celebrating our little successes. I'm a fan. And no, I'm not getting a discount or anything on my next class, I'm just a fan!
[Cynthia is] a skilled, passionate group leader.
This class left me feeling hopeful and connected to the other group members.
I found the class very helpful in learning new ways to talk with my kids. I am confident this will help strengthen our relationship and help them learn essential skills.
I really enjoyed this class and feel like I learned many skills to help me be a better parent and foster my children's self-esteem. Thanks!
I appreciated the variety of learning methods - video, "lecture", discussions, role plays, pairs, hand-outs, and workbook. Key to my adopting these approaches has been the opportunity to practice in class and at home. So the homework assignments were also really helpful.
I appreciated the non-judgmental space - great class/workshop!
I appreciated your preparation of all the material and extra articles. Also your personal stories as well. The two weeks between sessions was great because I could process what we learned, practice it and read as well.