Hearing your kids fight is a practice in restraint. You want to jump in, bust out Mum or Dad Voice, and remind them that you didn’t give them the gift of a sibling so they could spend their days screaming about whose cheese cracker is cheesier. However, as we know, there are good reasons to let kids engage in some healthy conflict.
Does that mean we should sneak away, slip on our headphones and watch Sherlock as they duke it out over who gets the green cup? Unfortunately, no.
Early childhood expert Janet Lansbury teaches parents to support kids in their power struggles so they learn how to deal when adults aren’t around. We can do this, she says, by “sportscasting” their conflicts. This means acknowledging what you see without judgment. You’re not trying to figure out your children’s intentions or who is to blame, but rather just stating the facts. You are Marv Albert giving the play-by-play.
For instance, if Kian grabbed a hula hoop away from Blakely, a common parent reaction might be to say, “You stole that from her and now she’s sad! That was a mean thing to do. Say you’re sorry!” But in those words, you’re projecting your fears onto the kids, turning one child into the villain and the other into the victim when that may not be the case at all. Little kids, as Lansbury says in her podcast, “don’t have these preconceived ideas of what’s right and what’s fair.” Maybe little Kian just thought, “Ooh, that toy looks fun.” Or maybe he was thinking something else. It doesn’t really matter, and you don’t need to figure it out.
Instead, Lansbury recommends ‘sportscasting’ what’s happening, by describing the action objectively. “It looks like you both want the hula hoop. It’s hard when two people are holding onto the same toy.” And that’s it. Keep it brief, and let the kids make their own conclusions. They might continue fighting or let it go.
The idea, as Lansbury teachers, is that “when we do less, children think and learn more.” The technique can be helpful with all types of struggles — Priya’s tower keeps toppling over when she adds that last block, Timmy can’t seem to make it to the last monkey bar and he’s getting frustrated, Riley wants more time to play but it’s time to go home.
Of course, kids will sometimes look for more counsel. If they need more help from you, Lansbury suggests asking them questions. “It looks like Shane wants to wear the pot as a hat and Jessa wants to put sand in it. What can the both of you do?” She also notes that there will moments when sportscasting is not enough and physical intervention is necessary, like when kids are being destructive or if there are safety issues.
On the whole, though, it’s helpful to think about intervening less. Be there, but out of the way.