The other night, my husband and I were talking in the kitchen, and Elia (5) & JJ (3) were in the living room when we heard Elia shriek, scream & start crying. It is instantly followed by “SOR-RY!” from JJ. We look over and Elia is getting up from the floor, holding her neck & crying and JJ has hidden himself between the ottoman and the couch, with his face buried on the floor. Elia said that JJ kicked her.
John comforted Elia, and I picked up JJ and carried him into the front room, intending to “deal with him” (oh, doesn’t that sound nice?). There, he flopped to the floor crying, and I said, “You hurt her!” I had been intending to continue yelling & berating, BUT… realized that I had Flipped My Lid; my prefrontal brain (where the logic & reasoning skills are) was no longer communicating effectively with my middle brain (where emotions are regulated, as is the “fight or flight” reflex). So I walked across the foyer into the office and stood there…the computer was right in front of me so I checked Facebook. This took all of about 20 seconds before I felt calmer and walked back into the room where JJ was still crying (and he could still see me this whole time).
I sat on the couch not knowing if I felt calm enough to say anything yet. But when I did that, he crawled right up next to me and laid his head down on my lap. He stopped crying & sucked his thumb, and I put my arm down on his shoulder. Then I was sure we both were calm, and our conversation went like this (I was trying to “Listen for Understanding”):
Me: Why were you mad?
JJ: I don’t know.
Me: Were you mad?
Me: Were you frustrated?
Me: Were you sad?
Me: You were feeling sad about something?
JJ: Yes because Elia was making scary faces and I didn’t like that and I told her to stop and she didn’t!
Me: Ohhhh…..you were sad that she was ignoring you. You didn’t like the scary faces, and when you told her to stop and she didn’t stop, that hurt you; your feelings were hurt.
Me: Oh, OK. You know, Elia got hurt too. When you kicked her, that hurt her neck.
Me: Right now she needs help feeling better. What could you do to help her feel better?
JJ: Give her a hug. But I don’t want to do that.
Me: OK. What else could you do?
JJ: I don’t know.
Me: I think you could either tell her that you’re sorry, or you could do something nice for her like color her a picture, or do something else she would like.
JJ: Yeah, I could color her a picture. Will you help me? (Just an aside here, coloring is something JJ rarely does. He never asks for me to get the crayons out, and even when crayons are out and Elia is coloring, he wanders away and does something else. He’s just not too interested.)
So I get out the crayons and paper, and help him get situated at the counter, and he decides to draw a fairy for Elia. He wanted to do it “right” so he kept asking how to do it…he drew a head, body, wings, and then colored it “pretty colors” like pink, yellow & orange. It was so sweet, because he was clearly thinking of her the whole time!
He gave it to Elia, and I was nervous that she would say something about how it didn’t really look like a fairy, but she didn’t. I asked her if that helped her feel better and she said, “Yes, a little bit.” I thanked JJ for helping Elia feel better and he went to sit down & watch basketball with John.
Well, then Elia sat right down at the counter and used the crayons to draw and color a picture of a tank for JJ! I think she realized that she was not so innocent in this whole situation; it was true that had JJ triggered the outburst, but she was the one who had been doing the “poking” all along. She gave him the picture, and he was surprised and said that he felt better too!
I couldn’t have been more proud of my kids, or pleased with the effectiveness of Positive Discipline. Throughout the ordeal, I had used 3 PD techniques: positive time-out (for myself), listening for understanding, and not forcing an apology. The whole encounter started out tense, but ended so sweetly! We all ended up in the living room playing Blokus, and I felt very thankful for my Positive Discipline skills!
Kelly is an API Leader and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor in Portland, Oregon. She blogs at Parenting From Scratch.