Four Keys to Helping Kids Navigate Their Differences
“No quits without a warning!” That was a phrase we adopted in our family when two of our kids were struggling to get along with each other. If either of them wanted to quit, they could. They just had to do it the right way. They could say they would do it for a certain amount of time, such as five more minutes or ten more minutes, or they could do it for a certain number of times, such as three more times or seven more times. In this way, they gave the other warning, time to prepare, and were not quitting out of anger or frustration. It was amazing how this simple phrase cut our conflict in half!
They both had a tendency to quit things but for different reasons. It just so happened that these were themes for their personality types. Our Peaceful Phlegmatic child would be pretty easy to get along with in general. Most of his siblings like playing with him, because he just adjusted to whatever they wanted. They would pick what to play, and he would follow. They would want a turn first, and he would give in. But not everything went easy with this Peaceful Phlegmatic! The down fall was that he would just up and quit and leave them feeling frustrated. Why would he quit? Because he was tired! He wanted to lie down and rest or sit on the couch and just watch.
Our other child, the Powerful Choleric also had a tendency to quit. He was usually the ring leader. He would think of the ideas and then organize the activity in a way that would make it work. He gave direction and kept things moving. But that too had its downside. When things didn’t go his way or if someone showed resistance to his plan, he too would up and quit. This left others frustrated when they were in the middle of things they didn’t get to finish. Why would he quit? Because he wanted to have control of things!
I remember finding these two playing together one day and the utter frustration and anger that was building between them.
“He keeps quitting!” the Powerful Choleric yelled.
“I am too tired to keep playing basketball. And that’s all you want to do.” the Peaceful Phlegmatic retorted.
“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “How do we quit things?”
“Yeah, no quits without a warning,” my Powerful Choleric child demanded.
“Let’s remember how to quit and how to work together, ok.” Then I left the room to see if they could work it out.
I returned about 10 minutes later when things seemed pretty quiet. “Hey guys, what’s going on?” The Powerful Choleric was running around playing basketball, and the Peaceful Phlegmatic was draped across the recliner, resting.
“I’m playing a basketball game and I’m winning!” The Powerful Choleric seemed pleased.
“I’m his team mate, but I’m injured in the hospital!” The Peaceful Phlegmatic offered from his comfy chair.
“Well it looks like you found a great compromise, and you are both happy!” I laughed.
“Yes, I am going to be in the hospital for 10 more minutes and then we are done.” The Peaceful Phlegmatic was happy to see the end in sight.
Issues were common for these two kids. They were totally opposite personalities. We often looked for ways we could bridge the gap for these two. These personality tendencies would likely appear again and again. They needed some ways to understand each other.
- Give them the words. Often times, kids argue and fight when they don’t have the right words to help them express what they are feeling or what they need. Phrases such as, “Please don’t tell me what to do.” or “I would like to do it a little different.” Or “Would you please play for a few more minutes?” Or maybe your kids just need some simple reminder, to use with each other, much like our phrase, “No quits without a warning!”
- Help them learn compromise. Give them ideas when they are struggling with what compromise might look like. What variation can they make to their play that might allow both kids to get what they need? “Can I sit here and … (somehow still be a part of what’s happening but in a less active role)?” or “Can I pick what I want to do after this activity?” or “How about if we take turns deciding how we do things?” There are numerous ways to help them create and imagine and play with taking each other’s needs into consideration. It just doesn’t come naturally. They need direction.
- Role play for good practice. Because we operate naturally out of our personalities, it can be hard to think or respond in ways that other personalities need. So offer your child some rich experiences in learning how to do this. Role play those difficult situations and lead them through some great responses and problem solving.
- Talk about differences. Give your kids some ideas about what the personalities mean. Our kids as young as 3 and 4 have enjoyed reading The You Zoo book and beginning to get some ideas of what makes each person special.
Helping your children navigate the theme issues that occur between them will help them in every relationship they have. It will make a difference in how they handle conflict, communicate, and problem solve. Give them the tools that can help them in life!