One thing I love about being a mom of more than one child is that I can watch the sweet interactions between my two daughters. The silly giggles, role-playing, and storytelling.
At this point, I tend to deem it safe enough to turn my back for that One Terrifying Second, willing myself to believe that the good vibes will continue without the need for my watchful eyes.
And then—it happens.
The Dreaded Whiny Scream.
What was just one second before a picture perfect scene has now devolved into hair-pulling, hitting, and of course, screaming.
I barrel across the room, eyes blazing, mad as hell, determined to pull them apart.
“Mama!” Pumpkin shouts. “She took my block!”
“Mama!” Peanut yells. “Iwannadisbutshetrytotakeit!!”
At this point, I have no clue who is in the right because of the aforementioned One Terrifying Second. I didn’t see what happened.
I want to be fair, to teach the kids about reward and punishment, and about justice.
But more than that, I just want the Dreaded Whiny Scream to STOP.
So, typically, the one who is screaming louder (Pumpkin) gets a timeout, and I make the requisite empty threat to Peanut.
One day, on a day they were playing happily, I also happened to be having a very bad day. I had only slept a handful of hours the night before, I had to make several business calls, I hadn’t showered yet, and I had skipped yoga because of knee pain. Yeah.
I was clearing out the dishwasher when I heard the Dreaded Whiny Scream, the harbinger of the fight to follow.
I steeled myself for the conflict, feeling my blood pressure rise.
“Mama!” one of them shouted. “She took it!”
Then a lightbulb went on. “Whatever!” I shot back, not looking up.
I straightened up and shrugged my shoulders at the scene before me. “Deal with it,” I said, and went back to my task.
Despite the shock on my daughters’ faces, they each jockeyed for my attention, each affirming the other’s crimes.
“Figure it out!” I said over my shoulder while rearranging the spice cabinet.
After some blaming and finger-pointing, the argument continued briefly between the two of them. I mentally blocked it out and hoped I wasn’t making a huge mistake.
After a few minutes, silence fell. I slowly turned my head towards my kids, half expecting a pile of twisted limbs tangled up on top of their blocks spread out on the floor.
But…what was this?
They were getting along! Pumpkin was stroking Peanut’s hair, telling her that it was nice to share. Peanut was willingly offering her block to her sister, even suggesting how to add it to her tower. “I love you,” Pumpkin cooed. They continued in this fashion for the next 30 minutes without any intervention from me.
I drew a conclusion:
It seems that in the thick of fighting, they are also competing for my attention, to see whose side I’ll take, both eager to rat out the other, in order to gain some sort of validation from me. When I leave them alone, they are forced to resolve the disagreement themselves, or spend the rest of play time in turmoil, seeing that Mama won’t be there to bail them out (this time!).
Pumpkin, as the older sister, seemed to take over my motherly role and took to soothing her sister (even if Pumpkin herself started the fight to begin with). They realized things are better when they get along, and feel even better that they made it happen on their own.
Reward, punishment, and justice? Check, check, and check.
Have you ever let your young kids sort out their differences on their own?