Whole-Brain Child Strategy #12: “Connection Through Conflict: Teach Kids to Argue with a ‘We’ in Mind”

sibling-rivalry-300x225We’ve come to the final strategy in The Whole-Brain Child book by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and I really love how they ended the book. I love it because it really resonates with the marital work that I do and stressing the importance of this ‘we.’

At The Hideaway Experience marriage intensives in Amarillo, TX, we use a model for marriage therapy that was developed by Terry Hargrave and Shawn Stoever specifically for The Hideaway Experience. This model can be found in the book, 5 Days to a New Marriage. But one of the things I love about the model is this idea that the ‘I’ and ‘You’ in a relationship fosters an ‘us.’ In other words, when two people come together, they bring both of themselves to the relationship, but there is this third entity in many ways as well that needs care, love, encouragement, etc. We don’t lose ourselves and identity in a person or relationship, but we bring all that God created us to be in relationship with this other person and we form this beautiful ‘us.’ And I hear very much the same message in the final strategy of The Whole-Brain Child.

We are relational beings, built for community, and the moment we forget that and focus only on ourselves we are in trouble. And if we don’t teach our kids about how to be in relationship with other people — and we don’t model that — then we fail to pass on to them the most important aspect of being human.

With that being said, Siegel and Bryson recommend several skills:

See Through the Other Person’s Eyes: Help Kids Recognize Other Points of View

“It can be difficult for any of us to see things from someone else’s perspective. We see what we see, and often only what we want to see. But the more we can use our mindsight to view events through the eyes of another, the better chance we have of resolving conflict in a healthy manner.” (pp. 135).

For example, my son and daughter fight almost on a daily basis. That’s just the way it is with a 6 and 3 year old. On many occasions my daughter will come running to us and say something like, “Hudson just tore down what I was building.” My instinct is often to just tell her to ignore him, or I say something like, “He didn’t just tear it down on his own…what were you doing to him?” Or when I have a bad parenting day, I might let Hudson suffer the consequences of his actions without really knowing what happened.

But using this strategy I might first connect with my daughter and validate her feelings, because after all she is upset that Hudson did tear down what she was building. And then second, I might try to help her see Hudson’s point of view by asking, “Why do you think Hudson tore down your building? He must have been upset about something.” And usually I find out that she was antagonizing him in some way. Ultimately, I just want to validate her own feelings, but also help her see from her younger brother’s perspective of why he did what he did. By doing this I’m teaching her to think about others, especially her brother she greatly loves, and to see things from his perspective.

Listen to What’s Not Being Said: Teach Kids About Nonverbal Communication and Attuning to Others

“Nonverbal clues sometimes communicate even more than words, so we need to help our children use their right hemisphere to get good at understanding what other people are saying, even if they never open their mouth.” (pp. 137).

I think that one of the ways that this most often comes up in our family life is helping our kids notice when other kids feel left out, or don’t seem happy. So for example, we have a lot of kids in our neighborhood, and it’s not unusual for every kid at some point to feel left out. You can see this feeling of left out non-verbally by the way a kid might walk off by herself to sit alone while all her friends are playing. Or you might see it when a kid expresses frustration. Or you might see it by their body posture (i.e. head down, shoulders drooping, etc.).

So as a parent one of the things I try to instill in my kids is for them to notice these things. I might for example point out to Hayden when one of her friends is doing something non-verbally and I want her to notice it. Since kids aren’t great at this right from the get go, we as parents have to help teach them this. And the more I help my kids pick up on these non-verbal cues, the more sensitive and attuned they will be to the feelings of their friends, and they will be better able at fostering healthy relationships.

Repair: Teach Kids to Make Things Right After a Conflict

“We know the importance of apologizing, and we teach our children to say they’re sorry. But kids also need to realize that at times, that’s only the beginning. Sometimes they need to take steps to right whatever they’ve done wrong.”

So for example, going back to my daughter being upset about my son knocking over the thing my daughter was building. I might begin by helping them both see from each other’s perspective why and how things happened. Hayden will see that she was antagonizing Hudson, and Hudson will see that he knocked over her building. As they see from each other’s perspectives they will most likely apologize to one another next. But in order to repair the relationship, I will encourage them for example to build the project together. It gives Hudson the opportunity to right the damage he has done. And by Hayden allowing Hudson to help her it demonstrates to him that his sister forgives him and that she cares about their relationship.

Repair is one of the most important things we can do in relationships. Parent-child, marriage, families…in order to move forward we often need to repair first.

What do you think about these 3 skills? Have you used them effectively in your home?

[Image: childdevelopmentinfo.com]

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