Archive for the ‘parenting’ category

Cheese Cracker Conflict

May 13, 2011

I was driving home from dropping the kids off at school.  I was hungry.  There were 2 packs of cheese crackers, and 1 pack of peanut butter crackers.  As I’m reaching for the cheese crackers I realize that maybe I’d better eat the peanut butter instead.  That way, when it comes time for their after school snack, my kids won’t fight over who gets the cheese or peanut butter.

So, I was about to suppress what I wanted in order to avoid the possibility of conflict between my kids.  And I was about to miss a potential opportunity to teach them how to work with conflict in a positive way.

After all, to avoid conflict is to be unprepared for the inevitable times when it cannot be avoided.  So instead, I’m going to see if I can draw it out a little bit.  If one says “I want cheese!,” I’ll say “Good choice, cheese is the best!  Sorry [other child], you’ll have to make do with peanut butter.”

This might sound cruel, and in the wrong hands, it would be.  But the more of an emotional event the situation becomes (without becoming negative), the more prepared they’ll be for conflicts with similarly high emotional stakes.

Then, when I can tell they’re about to cross that threshold into negativity (like yelling at each other), I’ll start redirecting things.  “Wait a minute guys.  Lets think about this.  What do you think is the fair thing to do here?”

But emotions can be unpredictable, even chaotic.  Especially with kids.  That’s what makes it exciting.  So if one of them becomes negative, like yelling or hitting before I redirect, then it becomes a discipline situation.

“Well that was easy.  I was going to have you guys share half of each, but now the cheese crackers will go to he who didn’t get angry/whiny/mean.  Remember, there’s no reason to get upset.”

And the key with discipline is to be assertive and firm, but not aggressive, angry, sarcastic or frustrated.  Even restrained undertones of negativity get transmitted and contaminate the whole interaction.  That’s why being prepared helps.

If anything, instead of dealing with conflict, I’ll just as likely have to deal with my son’s tendency toward avoidance and self-suppression.  If I detect him making a martyr of himself in order to avoid his sister’s aggression, then the question is how to draw him out.  Be creative.

“Hold on!  I just found another pack of the cheese crackers.  Would you like them instead?”  If he does, then I’ll say “so you do want cheese crackers.  I thought so.  I was lying about the extra pack.  But before you sacrifice yourself, lets see if we can figure out something you’ll both be happy with.”

All this because I was hungry and wanted to eat some cheese crackers.  Taking on conflict opens a whole can of worms, but it’s so much more exciting and positive than growth stunting self-suppression and avoidance.