By Hyacynth Worth
This summer has left our family a little fried in more than the roast, toast and burn kind of way that 100-degree heat and full-on, daily sunshine leaves in its nightly sunset. Specifically, this summer has left me, the mother of two little boys, totally burned out by 10 a.m. after breaking up the tenth argument of the day.
Normally during the summer, when we all start driving each other batty, I ship us all outside to get a breather, but with the oppressive heat we’ve seen in Chicagoland this summer, we all end up more crabby after a few minutes under the sun than if we would have just stayed inside and continued kicking each other in the face/sitting on each other’s heads/sumo wrestling each other to the ground over the one coveted Lego piece. And by we I mean the two small ones; I’m tallest so I can take whatever Lego pieces I want whenever I want without fear of being WWF-style pinned to the floor. I digress.
Because I don’t like living each day wishing it were bedtime come noon, I began collecting ideas to help discourage the boys’ innate desire to make each other bonkers, implementing the ones that worked and dumping the ones that didn’t. And because I know that I can’t be the only parent out there singing “it’s five o’clock somewhere” during the early morning hours, I began writing these ideas down. Here’s to hoping that after reading and doing a few test trials that the heat is the only thing left frying our parent-brains.
Hug It Out
I thought it insanity at first too. “Hug it out?” I’d incredulously asked a friend who suggested it as the remedy to silly spats. The last thing I wanted, I’d thought, was two squabbling boys even closer to each other in the heat of a debate. But we tried it anyway, because, you know, they were already fighting one morning, and I had nothing to lose. My almost five year old stared at me like I’d gone mad, but the nearly three year old was on his older brother like white on rice. And pretty soon they were both giggling. It hasn’t lost its novelty yet because we only use it when tempers are low and the argument is pretty low-key in the first place because it seems to provide a little laughter relief to minor irritations.
Space to Burn Out
Sometimes the fires of disagreement simply are burning too hot to be resolved by silliness. During those times, we’ve found it best to separate and give the boys space to allow the flames of irritation to simmer before resolving the conflict verbally. This is different from a time out in that it’s not meant to be a punishment for disagreeing. We all disagree sometimes, and we need to know how to handle those disagreements well. I mean, screaming like your pants are on fire is not going to fly in the office when someone wrongs you. We have a favorite book or puzzle set aside for each boy when the time comes for separation. Each boy is encouraged to engage in his quiet activity and cool down while the referee–er, parent–takes the time to talk to each party about the mishap. Normally, everyone involved cools pretty quickly and peace is restored after coming back together to discuss the wrong that had been committed.
Younger kids, especially those who are still working on communicating well, often only need a redirection to a more productive activity when fighting with siblings. Sensory play with water, dried beans or sand is a calming way to redirect without harsh discipline.
When the amount of arguing and bickering has become intolerable during the course of one day, and most every restoration effort has failed, I know it’s time for each little one to get some one-on-one parent time. For whatever reason–be it the time away from each other or the chance to garner all of mom or dad’s (or grandma or grandpa’s) attention–an hour away from other siblings with just one adult often resets the tone of not just an entire terrible day but also a rough and patchy week.
Change of Venue/People
Just like their adult counterparts, little ones need a little variety in the week, too, to keep boredom at bay and minds busy enough to forget about quarreling, so switch it up! If by Thursday, you’ve spent every day doing the same beach activity, take a trip to a large local park or spend a day at home. Invite friends over who normally make the day cheerful and fun. Give your kiddos new play persons and new activities. A little change in the every-day greatly reduces bickering.
Chore Erases Bore
When the fighting turns to whining and complaining about being bored, and there’s been enough activity coupled with down time, a little perspective is all that’s needed to help kids redefine their attitudes. A good friend of mine actually dishes out chores when the incessant and unwarranted whining and complaining about boredom begins and has said it usually inspires her children to find something fun to do that doesn’t revolve around complaining to mom or dad about boredom.