While standing at the stove I hear my children screaming from upstairs: “You shut up!” “No, you shut up.” Before I knew it, it seemed like I was having an out-of-body experience, watching myself in disbelief as I hear the words spewing from my own mouth: ‘Both of you just shut up!’ Nothing like being the parent and adding fuel to the fire! Angry, I try to gather my senses and breathe deeply, but I knew what I had just did was not the best resolution or even appropriate for that matter. I admit, although I am a parent, I am human–and still learning. Managing conflict between my children is not my ideal thing to do after a long day at work. After the screaming had ceased and I was able to think calmly again, I tried to patch up the poor behavior I had modeled. I knew that I had some work to do to get my “I’m the parent” credibility back.
The first step necessary for me to get back on track was to apologize. I believe it’s good for our children to see that even as parents we make mistakes, but we also take responsibility for them. Not only was I doing the right thing for me to feel better, I was modeling an expectation for my children. It’s important that we don’t blame our acting poorly on our children, which would defeat the purpose of the apology.
This may be a good time to engage your child’s problem solving abilities; ask them to offer tips on how everyone involved in the situation can react differently the next time conflict ensues. Not only does this empower them, it is encourages them to think, and even empathize with how our reactions may make others feel.
Give them some reassurance. Explain that your anger got the best of you and you will try hard not to give in to that monster the next time you are upset. Let your children know that even though you got angry because of something they did, you still love them. Ask for a hug. Make sure they see the separation of the person and the behavior.
Go one step further and ask for their forgiveness. Yes, it’s difficult to eat humble pie, but these are some actions that just may lead your child to have compassion and a tender heart for other people. So, when we do fuel the fire, make sure we are feeding the right one.
As an addendum, I had a nice surprise the other day. Each of my girls called me individually one afternoon reporting another battle of sibling rivalry! I simply told both of them “work it out” and heard nothing more. When I got home, I asked one of them if they had worked out their squabbling. I had to smile as she said, ‘Yeah, we both apologized and gave each other a hug’. This parenting thing, I think it’s working!