Helping children learn about limits and power and giving in requires parents to discover their own limits and the importance of staying out of their business.

The children are screaming … again. Their fight has escalated suddenly, as it always does. Just moments ago, 5-year-old Charlotte had been happily building Lego houses with Henry, age 3, in the playroom. However, from where Mom was in the kitchen, it clearly sounded like a major battle had erupted.

“It’s mine! It’s mine! I want it! Mine, mine, mine!” Henry screeched.

“No! No! It’s mine! I want it. Give it back to me!” Charlotte screamed tearfully.

Then Mom heard the sound of Legos hitting the wall. The Lego bucket followed. Thump. Crash. More screams.

Mom could no longer tolerate it. Her maternal concern

was suffocated by her all-too-familiar rage as she flew into the playroom. “Stop it right now. Stop!” she shouted, adding to the noise. “I have had it with your constant fighting. I’ve had it!”

She grabbed Charlotte and shoved her, still crying and screaming, into her bedroom. “Since you can’t play nicely, you stay in your room!” Charlotte’s eyes widened with fear at her mom’s anger. She threw herself on her bed, sobbing loudly. Mom slammed the door and stormed back into the play area. Henry was in the middle of a full-blown meltdown. He wailed “Mine!” as he hurled Legos all over the room, accompanied by loud screaming that only escalated Mom’s anger.

“Stop it,” she yelled. “Stop it!” She picked Henry up quickly and shook him.

Suddenly, she realized she was an out-of-control mother with two out-of-control children in an out-of-control situation. She collapsed on the bed holding a sobbing Henry. She felt ashamed, confused, overwhelmed. What happened? And how could it be happening again? As her anger slowly dissolved, bitter remorse washed over her. She asked herself what kind of mother was she — shouting, slamming doors, shaking her children? How could she expect to teach her children dignity when she was setting such a poor example with her own behavior? She hated her actions, but had no idea how to change it.

Knowing she had to work hard to change her reactions, she sought help. Fast forward: This time when she heard her children fighting, she stood firmly at the kitchen counter. All her instincts cried out for her to intervene. Soon Henry came running into the kitchen, crying. Rather than questioning him on who started the fight, who hit first, she crouched down beside him and held him, offering a few words of comfort. She decided her response was adequate when he quickly left the kitchen and returned to the living room. It wasn’t long before she heard the sounds of two happy children playing together.

Her sense of relief was palpable. First, their fighting had stopped without anyone drawing blood. But most importantly, she realized she wasn’t responsible for keeping her children happy every moment of the day. Somewhere along the way, she had learned that being a good parent meant your children did not fight or scream or argue. She also realized that trying to keep an untenable peace — something she had failed at miserably — had consumed enormous amounts of energy.

Initially, it wasn’t easy to stay out of her children’s battles. Some struggles were quite intense, with crying and wailing. As time passed, however, everyone started changing for the better. Her children began resolving their own disputes. Mom became aware that when she wasn’t jumping into the fray and making things worse, nobody was

left fuming, or at least not for very long. As she started

paying attention to her own issues, while staying out of

her children’s affairs, she noticed they were having fewer fights.

This is a work in progress and it won’t always go well. Letting children resolve their differences empowers them to stand up for what they want without their parents doing it for them. Charlotte and Henry are learning about limits and power and giving in, while Mom is discovering her own limits and the importance of staying out of their business.

“Siblings: your only enemy you can’t live without.” — Anonymous

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