Being mindful and calm while parenting isn't always easy, but the key for me has been making it a conscious habit every day. Mindful parenting can be hard enough with one child, but what about two kiddos? How are we supposed to remain mindful, calm and peaceful–and set a good example–when our kids are fighting and tensions are high?
Mindful Parenting and Playing the Referee: Think “A-B-C-D-E”
Enter sibling rivalry 101. You know how it transpires. The six-year-old is really into a video on the iPod and the two-year-old takes it for herself. There's screaming. There's crying. Or, they're playing Legos together and of course want the same one–or one knocks down the other's building.
The scenarios are endless and there's no getting around it. It's gonna happen. But what should I do? Should I step in? When do I step in? What should I do and say? Ideally, I should step in before it gets to that breaking point. I should support them being kind to one another and working it out in a calm and collaborative way. But what if it's past that point? What happens when one or both kids are throwing tantrums? How do I calmly sort through what has happened and what should happen in the chaos of crying and all?
Establishing a foundation of trust and healthy habits and behaviors is key. Here are some tips that have helped us learn how to work things out in a mindful manner.
Assess the situation. Plan ahead. Brainstorm. Think about the best ways to handle things before they escalate. And when they do, step back, take a breath and don't let your immediate emotions or anger rule your response.
Blow the whistle on the fight, not one person. Don't set up one sibling as the bully and the other as the victim. I know it's easy to do. For example, I often found myself stepping in and asking my eldest to be more mindful or let whatever his younger sister did slide for now, saying the she didn't know any better. But this can really set her up to get used to getting her own way and being the bully. Kids catch on quickly, don't they? I've certainly learned from my own childhood that if we don't address sibling rivalry in a healthy manner when younger, the unhealthy responses such as bullying are sure to play themselves out over and over again as we become adults.
Communicate and collaborate! When disagreements and fights do happen, talk about what's happening and how to solve it together. Talk about everyone's feelings so they can empathize with and understand one another, ultimately learning how to work together. Help them step out of themselves and see where the other's coming from. Sibling squabbles are inevitable. We all inevitably think differently and will disagree. But there are positive ways to address and learn from disagreements. Use them to teach kids how to solve problems together, understand one another, and see all sides.
Delegate. Include the kids in the solution so they learn how to manage their own emotions and how to come up with a solution together. Learning how to work together to find happy and healthy solutions will pave the way for happier homes and leave less need for referees in the long run.
Employ and encourage empathy always, along with a sprinkle of enthusiasm. Don't punish or give timeouts and add more problems and hurt feelings. Don't distance yourselves from each other even more. Don't add your own frustrations or anger into the mix. Chalk it up to a learning experience. Teach them how to work together and trust each other. Show them working out disagreements is a good, positive thing.
We've all heard the numerous parenting experts stress the importance of children learning to manage their feelings and calm themselves–along with us learning to manage our own emotions! But when we're tired and it's the end of the day, putting it into practice seems very difficult, doesn't it?
So, in addition to making sure I always have a strong cup of coffee nearby, I've been working on making mindful parenting a habit. I've been investing and putting the time in now so working together and being mindful becomes second nature. There certainly is a learning curve, but we all have to start somewhere. We are learning together and I'm finding it really does get easier.
Will there be a day when the old referee whistle is collecting dust in the closet? Maybe, maybe not. But that first time I witnessed my kids work out a problem on their own was priceless. I know the healthy foundation is there and growing, and it's a great feeling.
Images courtesy of Flickr.