Even with 30,000 toys in the playroom, the only one anyone wants to play with is the one their brother has. No matter how many times you’ve coached them to ask nicely for a turn, snatching that toy from their sister is always the go-to technique for acquiring what they want.
My grandkids have claimed their own barstools at the kitchen counter at my house. Want to see them get bent out of shape in a hurry? Let their sibling climb onto the stool that is “theirs”. And even if everyone sits on the right stool, they love to stick their feet on the stool of their neighbor. If that doesn’t elicit a response right away, they will give the other stool a little shove to make sure the offended party notices that they are being messed with.
What’s a parent to do? How can you keep your cool when the world around you is in meltdown mode?
- Establish a “no tattling” policy and try to stay out of the fray. It is actually a good thing for them to learn to solve petty disagreements on their own. If you intervene and solve problems constantly, they don’t learn to negotiate with others and you become a pawn in their Game of Crazy. (At the Rec, we define tattling like this: Is someone going to get hurt? Is something going to get broken? Have you tried to solve it yourself? If the answer is no, then we want them to go back and try to take care of it themselves.)
- If there is a problem that they can’t solve themselves, try a little cooling off area. We often send kids to the game table to have a little quiet time. They can do a puzzle or play a board game or build with Lego bricks, but they have to stay there for an appointed amount of time. It isn’t a time out, just a time to cool down and diffuse the situation. And since both offenders are generally sent there, they usually end of playing something together.
- For bigger offenses, a little more “togetherness” might be just the ticket. When my kids were little, I would make them hold hands if they couldn’t get along. They could do anything they wanted as long as they held the other’s hand. It is hard to play without cooperating when you only have one hand to work with and you have to agree on where you’re going. If they kept fighting, I’d just add time to their sentence. It was amazing to see how creative they could get when they decided to work together.
- For kids who can’t keep their hands to themselves, we often make them clasp their own hands together. Again, they aren’t in time out and they can do whatever they want as long as their hands are clasped.
- If using words nicely seems to be the root of the problem, we just impose a “silence” penalty. They can continue to play, but they aren’t allowed to speak for a period of time. Generally, we find that they are more judicious with their speech when the privilege of speaking has been suspended for a little while. And, if nothing else, you get a few minutes of quiet time.