You know the first rule about Little Kid Fight Club? You always whine and argue and tattle to anyone who will listen.
Have you ever sat back and watched a verbal smack-down between little kids? I’m not talking about the snarkiness of teenagers, but little kids. Like 5-7 year olds. It’s amazing how savage they can be. And when I say savage, of course I mean petty and minor. But in a little kid’s mind? So savage!
Take, for instance, my kids’ version of a glove smack to the face. Here’s what they do:
A typical argument over something life altering between boy child and girl child, like who gets to use the blue plastic place mat and who is stuck with booger green, ensues. After a bit of whining, yelling and the commencement of tears by boy child, girl child asserts herself by putting a period on the argument and confidently basking in the victory by putting the placement at her spot at the table.
That’s not the savage part. It’s here…you ready?
Boy child angrily grabs a piece of paper (junk mail will do in a pinch- timing is key, here) and a pencil, gives girl child a cold stare of sheer anger…long enough to get her attention. Once eye-lock is made, boy child then slowly and methodically writes girl child’s initial on the paper. Pauses. Looks at her, draws a circle around the initial slowly and dramatically. And then? Draws a heavy, slow line through the initial.
THROUGH. THE. INITIAL, y’all! What the?! That is stone cold savage. And oh it works!!! Girl child is reduced to a stream of tears, which usually leads to a pity parade with stomping feet to find the closest parent interested enough to put an end to this ghastliness!
Oh the humanity.
OK, so this is all completely humorous to anyone over ten years old. But back off with your judgment because this is Little Kid Fight Club and you best enter at your own risk.
So, how do you diffuse such a runaway freight train of emotions and irrationality without losing your ever-loving mind?! No idea. Well, that’s not true. We muddle through with things like this:
Address the real issue
First we gotta find out what in tarnation caused this mess in the first place. “Oh, it was because you wanted to use the blue place mat and girl child had it first?!” We talk through why she gets to decide what place mat she wants to use and why he doesn’t. You know what we usually say?
She wanted it and said something first. Life’s not fair. Sorry.
Of course, we do end up with the stupidly arduous task of now having to remember who had the blasted place mat last and who gets it for the next meal. Just because too much unfairness is harsh for a six year-old.
Address the interaction
In the midst of addressing the real issue, we also take a moment to stop boy child when there’s too much crying while explaining. Firstly, I can’t understand “boogery bubble-ridden whiny speak” so I stop him and ask him to look me in the eyes. I’m usually at their eye level here and man, this part can take a second but it’s important to get the eye contact.
Once I have it, I ask him to fill up his lungs with air and breathe it out. Then I ask him to do it again. And one final time. Oxygen does a great deal for clear thinking. Now I ask boy child to tell me with his words what happened. I ask him to tell me without crying and that I will listen to him. Bless him, he fights back falling apart but he gets his message out.
Next, we all have a quick discussion on how they talked to each other. (Notice I didn’t issue a ruling yet!) I remind them of the nasty sound of the argument and ask both kids to talk about how they said mean things to each other. Then I ask them why they said them. I prompt them to understand and say that they wanted to hurt the other child’s feelings by being mean. Then we talk about how that’s not a good way to win an argument. Ever. Being mean is just that.
And it doesn’t get rewarded by getting to use the blue place mat. I hold up the savage graffiti and ask if this was nice or mean. Once he says it was mean, I ask him to apologize to girl child. I then ask girl child to apologize to him.
Then I lower the boom on how we move past this. Girl child gets the placement. We are done with this argument and boy child can have the placemat at the next meal. I tell him that if I hear any whining or any yucky talk from him, that he will not get the placemat at all. For real.
I need him to learn to pull himself together and move forward. I need all the kids to learn this. This isn’t denying them the right to feel their feelings. This is simply not allowing them to unpack and move in to Sadsville or Angrytown. Just no. There’s a time to allow yourself to be upset and there’s a time to move forward. Not everything will go your way in all situations.
Now, kids aren’t born knowing how to do this so they have to be taught. And it doesn’t come easy. Because their emotions are big…especially for boys.
Girls have lots of layers of feelings but boys have big clouds of singular feelings. Recognizing the difference here is so important because they recover and learn differently. Girls can talk through their feelings better than boys at this age so we find that talking with the girls allows them to work through the stages of anger. With boys, we have seen that diffusing is important before any rationality can happen. Taking the time to diffuse (asking for the deep breaths and eye contact) helps immensely to move into talking and resolving anger.
No matter how the argument started, how it ended and who walked away the victor, we always try to get the laughter back quickly. The laughter is kind of the packing tape on the box of yuck that we’ve worked through and stuffed into the box. Laughter moves everyone past the anger and into the “next thing”, whatever it is. The cadence of conversation and humor is a little faster-moving to put some space between the rawness of what happened and where we want our kids to be now.
And once the smile creeps onto the face of an upset child, the sparkle returns to his eyes and he’s ready to grab onto funny conversation with no hesitation. Always move forward!