Tara Scott is a former Brentwood divorce lawyer – with a 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter – so she knows a thing or two about parenting through conflict. Now a family mediator in Beverly Hills, Scott has found that things she learns in her mommy-and-me group help in mediation and that her mediation skills apply at home.
Here are some of her tips for wading into a disagreement between your kids:
First, assess the situation. If Scott is cooking dinner and her daughter comes into the kitchen and accuses her son of “being mean,” stepping right into the conflict will only escalate things. “With kids, everything’s just so big and they’re feeling so much,” Scott says. “We have to help them figure out what they’re really trying to say.” In this case, her kids likely want her attention and are frustrated that she is busy. “All they’re trying to do is get me to engage with them,” Scott says. So, a better reaction is to ask, “Why do you feel that way?”
Second, let them know you are listening. “Everyone wants to feel heard. Make their little voices heard,” Scott says. One way of doing this is to repeat back what your child is telling you, or to describe what you think they are feeling: “I hear that you’re upset right now.”
Finally, offer options. Once you’ve teased out what is going on, help your kids make a plan. “When people know there’s a plan, that calms things down,” Scott says, and when people are able to pick their plan, they feel empowered. Tell your kids it’s time to do something different. “Let them pick something that as a parent we’re OK with,” says Scott. “Do we want to play a game right now or would we rather go outside and play on the swings?”
“Don’t always take everything at face value,” Scott reminds parents. Try to stay neutral and react to what is really going on, and you’ll de-escalate the situation and restore harmony.