Your three-year-old daughter is sitting at her desk drawing. Her one-year old brother ambles into their room and picks up one of his sister's dolls and begins to suck on the doll's head. Your daughter screams, grabs the doll from her brother and then hits him with the doll. Your son is crying and your daughter continues to yell at her brother, "Don't touch my stuff!"
You enter the room and feel protective of your youngest and while you understand your daughter's frustration, you do not like they way she is treating her younger brother. You are a progressive, loving parent and you don't want to threaten, yell, or punish, but you want the grabbing, hitting and yelling to stop. L.O.V.E. Parenting has a four-step process that may help.
After a quick attending to your son by means of a comforting hug, a redirecting towards another toy, or holding him while you speak to daughter, you begin the four-step process of communication.
Step One, Witness: The first step is to bear witness to your child's distress. Everyone wants to be seen and heard and your daughter is no exception. You may want to say, "I see that you are frustrated. I understand that you care for your things and you don't want your younger brother to damage your doll. I can see by the expression on your face and I can hear by the volume of your voice that you are angry."
Step Two: Empathy: The next step is to offer love and empathy. This will make your child feel that you understand her perspective. You may offer, "I had a toy that someone used in the wrong way and I was so sad about it. I can understand your being concerned. I love you so much and I want you to be happy. I want you to feel that your toys are safe and I want you to be able to draw peacefully without having to protect your things."
Step Three: Limit: Now that you have reflected what you have seen in your child's behavior and you have offered love and validation, it is time to set the limits. This looks something like, "I need you to know, that it is my job to keep all bodies safe in this family. You may not hit your brother. You may not roughly grab things that are in his hand. Finally, you may not yell at people in this family."
Step Four: Alternatives: Children don't have all the tools that adults have to take care of their needs. They can't take a smoke break, they can't go for a drive to get space, they can't call a friend; they feel their feelings immediately and they use whatever is at their fingertips to express their frustration; they may bite, hit, grab, yell, kick, spit, or scream. If we merely set a limit, we rob them of their expression. We need to validate their feelings, reflect back their experience, set the limit and then give them alternatives. Alternatives for releasing angry, sad, frustrated feelings are: take a bike ride, run a bath, draw your feelings in a journal, dig a hole in the earth, punch a pillow, yell into the couch and so forth. These first options get the child into their body and help move the energy through them. The last two options help the children express their anger, with out directing it at someone in your family. If you've gone through the first three steps of witnessing, empathy, and setting limits, and your child is still wanting to yell or hit, you can offer these fourth step alternatives as a way to release their upset feelings.
If your child is ready to learn about alternatives to the situation at hand, you may suggest other ways for the child to get their original needs met, such as: "Offer your brother another toy, find a book that he can bend or a doll that he can mouth." Or, you can suggest that you all reconvene in a room where the younger brother can have full reign. Finally, you can suggest that your daughter treat her younger brother the same way you are now treating her; witness, love, limit, alternative, as in, "Brother, I see you want to suck on my doll. I understand that and I've wanted to use toys in different ways as well. You may not use my doll that way, however, because it will damage my doll to have your mouth on her. I have another doll that is okay to suck on, however, or we could go in another room together where you may find other things to do."
It may sound sophisticated to speak to your children thusly, but you are modeling direct, clear communication and that part, more than memorizing every word verbatim, will come through. The exact language isn't as important as the concepts of witnessing, giving love and empathy, then setting an unequivocal limit, alternatives for releasing the anger if necessary, followed by ideas for satisfaction without breaking the limits.
Lean towards the growing edge of your children, expect the best from them, shower them with love and affection, create an emotionally and physically safe environment for them and watch them thrive. L.O.V.E. Parenting
Jessica Williams lives in her native Los Angeles with her husband and their three young children. She is a featured writer for Mothering Magazine's "Voices of Mothering" online blog. Jessica created L.O.V.E. Parenting www.LoveParentingLA.com with coaching, classes and workshops, to inspire parents to live in harmony with their core values and to maximize joy and connection with their family. Jessica teaches at The Sanctuary Birth & Family Wellness Center and Birth & Beyond. Phone sessions available.