I have found myself acting in a rather contradictory manner lately when it comes to interaction. As a gentle parent I believe in allowing Bowie to deal with conflict that emerges with her peers, but when I see it I can’t help but intervene as I am afraid of what another parent may think. Sounds pretty silly but yes, I am afraid!
Here is an example of what I am talking about. The other day I took Bowie to the library and in the reading pit there were piles of those giant lego blocks. A girl of around 3 years old was building a tower with these blocks and Bowie beelined for it and knocked it over. As you can imagine the little girl was not happy.
Now my mind is telling me to leave them to it because dealing with conflict is a skill and both children need to learn how to manage it. But my body is quickly walking over there and picking up Bowie to stop her from inflicting any more damage, while a dozen apologies are escaping from my mouth. I looked around for the girl's caregiver more apologies tumbling out, before taking Bowie to distract her with another set of lego.
I was anxious to escape as I thought the mother may be unhappy as the girl was still making a fuss, but no, all she said was “it’s ok sweetheart, you can show me how to build another tower”. What a great response! She didn’t think Bowie was an ogre intent on destroying her daughter's tower, she just saw a 1 year old keen to play along. Phew. Now I just need to get into that cool, calm and collected parenting zone.
Perhaps when your own child is the perpetrator it is easy to get caught up in the apologies and trying to get it right. When your child is young and unable to communicate verbally it is easier to apologise for them, but then do we even need to apologise? It is clearly not a vindictive action on their behalf as their brain has not developed enough to understand what constitutes as being kind and productive, or malicious and negative.
But the main thing for me is not knowing what type of caregiver is with the child in question. Are they also keen for their child to learn the ins and outs of conflict? Or do they like to force a child to apologise even if it is not a genuine apology?
Whatever type of parent they are, the unknown is always a little bit scary and it is challenging to follow through with your beliefs. Your child may get hit by the other child, pushed over or called a name. Of course, you want to step in and protect them, but is this to their detriment? How do children learn the art of conflict resolution?
According to Janet Lansbury of Elevating Child care, we learn through trial and error and by observing our parents. Resolution may take place through expressing the feelings we experience during the incident or by marking out our personal boundaries, all whilst maintaining a connection with the others involved. You can read more about Janet’s thoughts in her post: Helping Toddlers Resolve Conflicts (Rules of Engagement), it has some very helpful information. This is pretty heavy stuff for a toddler to learn but then again it is also instinctual and when left to their own devices it will happen…eventually. We just need to have faith in them and lead by example.
Many parents have mentioned to me that they work really hard to keep all arguments away from their children and then when a big doozie happens in front of them the guilt sets in. My main response to them is, “Hey, it happens”. What is important is that you DO work out the issue, don’t sweep it under the carpet. Show them that you can come to a resolution and move on with the day. When they see that you survive and you still love each other they will learn that it is healthy to argue sometimes. I think one of the worst ideals that a young adult can leave home with, is the thought that their parents never had arguments and that happiness always ruled the roost. This is setting them up to feel a failure when their own relationships have sour moments.
It may not be pretty and it may not be pleasant, but conflict is an important tool for our children to learn. As long as there is no violence or verbal abuse, a healthy argument will prepare your child for managing conflict later in life.
Do you find it hard to sit back and let children deal with their own conflict? I would love to hear your experiences so please leave them in the comments.