Most of us would guess that said counselor would eventually face financial difficulties as the word got out that he was, at best, ineffectual at his job. Who on earth would try to teach problem solving skills by merely commanding “stop it right now”? Wait! We have an answer to the question. You, the quiet kid in the back of the class with his hand up, you have the answer? “What did you say? Every parent on earth does it”?
Consider the scene, only shrink the arguing adults to our arguing kids. Kids can be amazingly creative with things to disagree about. If I was brainstorming with ten adults on this subject, we could fill up ten pages full of kids’ arguments. Once, I observed two young brothers swimming in a large lake. When the older brother would swim into a warmer spot he would yell: “Mom! Jayden’s peeing on me again!” To which Jayden would loudly respond: “I am not! I peed in the lake five minutes ago!” The absurd argument went on until the agitated mother told them to get out of the water and sit apart from each other on their beach towels.
One mother confided in me that she was on the verge of a panic attack every single time she loaded her boys into the car. When I asked if she had developed a fear of driving, she exhaustedly explained, “No. It’s more like a shotgun-a-phobia. Every time we go anyplace, there is always a loud battle who rides shotgun. I don’t want to go anywhere with my children”.
Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our teaching role with children. Parents are busy and parents are tired. Arguments, though common, seem irritatingly unbearable most of the time. However, many parents make the same mistake the goony counselor mentioned above made: telling someone to stop arguing teaches them nothing. As a result, no problem solving skills are learned, and the problems will continue. Perhaps, even worse, the kids grow up with no problem resolution abilities, and will not know how to handle situations at work or in their own marriages as they grow older. Now in fairness to tired, irritated parents, sometimes you just gotta shut ‘em down. However, there are many important problem solving moments that parents miss. Here’s a few examples and potential teachable solutions:
* “I call shotgun!” “You had it last time!” “It doesn’t matter, I called it first.” Etc., etc.
Head back inside the house for a lightning-fast meeting. “Kids, here’s the new rule: you have to keep track of whose turn it is. I purpose we start from the beginning by age. First would be Jason, second, Jayden and third Jaycee. If you lose track of whose turn it is and there is an argument, everyone is in the back, and unfortunately I will have no company up front. Y’all decide how to start this, and let’s get out of here. If they can’t decide: perfect. No shotgun on this lap.
* “Mom! Pedro won’t give me my book back!” “You weren’t even looking at it!” “It doesn’t matter, it’s my book, and give it back to me!”
“Come here boys and sit with me. How do you want to handle the problem of sharing personal property? Do we want to say nobody can touch anything of someone else’s without permission, or do we say if you weren’t using it, it’s ok for the other one to play with it as long as they treat it properly and put it back? As an example, your father and I bought the TV, thus it’s really ours. Although I would rather have you both watch TV without getting my permission to use my stuff, if you would rather me not share, I’m ok with that. You boys have five minutes to figure out a solution.”
The point is, we need to teach our kids how to solve problems. It’s more immediate work for the parent, but it reduces problems in the future. My counseling business is full of kids who make ridiculous decisions and suffer because of it. I have a room full of cutters that cut themselves because they are emotionally tortured by issues that are solvable. With no problem solving skills, kids will grow up to be unhappy adults, and highly questionable parents with their own kids.
John S. Sommer
Licensed Clinical Social Worker~Supervisor