Monday, March 1, 2010

Mothering technique for settling fights among young children

One of the problems with settling fights among young children is that when you are trying to talk to one child to find out what happened to them, the other child often interrupts (teasing, taunting, accusing, scorning) and often makes things worse. The challenge is to get the second child to remain quiet until it is their turn to tell their side of the story.

I was talking to my mom last night and she reminded me of a technique that she was inspired to try during a very difficult summer when everyone in our seven-child family was fighting and she was spending most of every day settling fights, trying to figure out what happened, and doling out consequences. (She called it “the summer from hell” it was that bad) She told me that she got the idea to try this technique after she prayed really hard about what to do about it.

The idea that she got was to use Tic Tac candy as a simple reward for remaining quiet and then telling one’s side. Here’s what a scene would be like:

Stuart: Mooooommmmm! Spencer hit me!

Mom: Spencer, what happened?

Spencer: He pushed me first!

Stuart: (interrupting) I did not! You were touching my bed!

Mom: Stuart, I am talking to Spencer right now. If you are quiet and wait your turn to speak, you will get a Tic Tac. Now, Spencer, what happened?

Spencer: He pushed me and wouldn’t stop.

Mom: (turning to Stuart) Okay, Stuart, what happened?

Stuart: He was touching my bed! And I..

Spencer: (interrupting) What’s wrong with that?!

Mom: Spencer, if you are quiet and wait until I talk to you, you will get a Tic Tac. Go on, Stuart.

Stuart: I didn’t want him to get on my bed and I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t.

Mom: Okay, Stuart, here’s a Tic Tac. (gives Tic Tac) Spencer, did you realize that Stuart didn’t want you on his bed?

Spencer: Noooooo..

Mom: Next time if he asks you to stop, you need to stop. Okay, here’s a Tic Tac. Stuart, when someone is doing something you don’t like, you need to tell them what they are doing that bothers you. You are both at fault. Okay, you need to say you’re sorry. Spencer, say ‘I’m sorry for bothering your bed and hitting you.’

Spencer: I’m sorry for bothering your bed and hitting you.

Mom: Good. Stuart, say ‘I forgive you, Spencer.’

Stuart: I forgive you, Spencer.

Mom: Good. Now, Stuart, say ‘Spencer, I’m sorry that I pushed you.’

Stuart: Spencer, I’m sorry that I pushed you.

Mom: Good. Now, Spencer, say ‘I forgive you, Stuart.’

Spencer: I forgive you, Stuart.

Mom: Good. Here’s a Tic Tac for you, Spencer, and here’s a Tic Tac for you, Stuart.

(Yes, this is what she would do. I can write representative conversations like this because she was incredibly consistent in her approach.)

This is how she would use Tic Tacs to get to the bottom of the story. The promise of receiving a Tic Tac very soon was enough to encourage my siblings to wait their turn to speak. My mom was very consistent about this. I remember that time when Tic Tacs were a very big deal. She told me she used Tic Tacs in this way for at least a month before my siblings were able to calmly get through the fact-finding process that was part of settling fights. The principle at work here is to work toward small positive changes in behavior with small rewards, by asking for the behavior, promising a small reward that is immediately available to give for that behavior, and then immediately rewarding the good behavior when it happens.
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:14-15)