Letting Kids Work it Out

My twins turn four next week and my youngest is currently two and a half. Being a parent is never easy, but our house had become a war zone. It seemed like all the kids ever did was fight. Sure there were moments of laughter and sweetness among them, but the general sound we heard around here was that of children arguing.

I was at my wits’ end and most days I just contributed to the fray by yelling at the kids to stop yelling. Needless to say, this was not very effective and didn’t make the kids or me feel very good. My husband (a far wiser person that I) suggested we just let them work it out. This goes against everything I have ever done. Isn’t my job as a mom to keep things happy and harmonious? To protect them from hurt and sadness?
Anytime I would hear the slightest sound of discord I would come swooping in and break it up. I could even determine when an argument would start based on the tone of the conversation, and I would attempt to get in there to defuse the situation before it began. I felt like a super hero who was just waiting for the call to come in and save the day. Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about being a super hero: it’s exhausting. I felt like I was always on a state of high alert waiting for the next disaster to strike.
So back to husband’s radical suggestion that we don’t keep trying to break up these incidents. I was trying to think of what would happen. My youngest resorts to hitting and hair pulling when she is upset with her sisters. My older two just yell and cry. I could just see my baby terrorizing her siblings, hitting one while simultaneously yanking a chunk of the other’s hair. But my husband asked me to think about what was the worse that could happen. To quote him, “she doesn’t have access to a razor blade.” (Please note, if your kids do have access to razor blades, this advice might not apply.)
So with some apprehension on my part, we have stopped swooping. I must confess even though I am not swooping, I am peeking behind doorways. And sure enough my little one is hitting her sisters when she gets upset. Normally when I would swoop in and pry her away, the child who was the victim would start crying and making a big scene (for my benefit perhaps?). But interestingly enough, when she hits her sisters now, they raise their voice, confront her and say “You don’t hit me. NO!” Then my little terror will either yell in return or simply retreat. And it ends. No crying children. No calling for mommy. The same has occurred when the girls have only been arguing verbally.
I wish I could say letting the kids work it out has made for a lot fewer arguments around here. I haven’t noticed that yet, but things definitely don’t escalate or last as long as they previously did. I still keep my eyes and ears open and peek a bit, but I am feeling more confidence in the kids’ ability to stand up for themselves. And even better, I know that I am raising kids who will be able to deal with sadness, disappointment and hurt. In trying to shield them from those things, I was doing them a huge disservice. I was not allowing them the opportunity to discover the strength of who they are and how they relate to others.
*You know your children best. I am in no way advocating ignoring your children or allowing them to do serious damage to each other. I am just sharing something that is working for our family. Your results may vary.

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  • I don’t profess to know much about parenting siblings – I only have one so far. And I’m not a psychologist, but most of my parenting ideas have come from observing families around me. One thing I noticed as a kid, was that those of my friends who had siblings were always closer friends with those siblings in families where the parents didn’t ‘swoop’. I don’t have any ‘study’ to back me up – but i plan to (at least mostly) take your husband’s approach here too. In my experience, it seems to be a good thing for their relationship – teaches them how to solve their problems with each other.