The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 13, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Short lecture instills big lesson on handling disagreements

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — There was golden silence when I left the house that morning. The girls were upstairs playing quietly and had been treating one another with nothing but kindness and respect for almost an hour.

Me being the paragon of optimism that I am, I knew it couldn't last. Still, I embraced the moment and tiptoed out into the garden to turn on the sprinkler and admire my weeds.

Three minutes passed. As if they'd been atmospherically alerted to the lack of supervision, both sisters tumbled out the back door on each other's heels, spouting accusations.

If I'd been inclined, I might have asked them to stop talking over one another so I could disentangle the mess of blame. But I was not inclined.

In fact, I was the opposite of inclined. I was so disinclined that I (kind of) stopped listening to the whole spiel.

I have it memorized anyway: Each child thinks the other child is wrong, and I was tired (on, like, the third day of summer vacation) of sorting through the mess to find the truth. And maybe it wasn't one of my best parenting moments, but I took a step back in the morning sunshine and waited for them to be done whining at each other and the world in general.

When silence eventually returned, my daughters both stared expectantly at me, waiting for a verdict. Who was right? Who was wrong? Above all, who was going to get in trouble for her meanness?

Only this time, they were sorely disappointed. I punished no girls, and I solved no problems. Instead, what they got was a lecture.

There are good times and places to have a successful lecturing session, but I almost never follow those rules. Instead, I fall into lecture pits quite frequently without stopping to anticipate the glazed-over eyeballs of my audience.

The one thing I have learned is to keep it short. It makes for a less personally gratifying experience, but on the up side, the kids actually listen for the first few seconds.

"Look girls," I began. "I'm not sure who started this, and it doesn't even really matter. What you need to know is that your words and actions have power. You have the power to make your sister stop yelling or start sharing, if you use your words carefully. You have the power to not make somebody angry. So go try again. And this time, remember that it's in your power to get along, no matter how difficult the other person is being."

They were mostly dumbfounded. When a little girl hits her sister, that sister might have been antagonizing her like crazy. It doesn't make the hitting right, but the antagonist shouldn't be relieved of all blame. I think kids need to be reminded that they have the power to keep their peers or siblings from getting so mad that they start fighting. It's in their power to use kind words instead of irritating words. It's in their power to suggest instead of control. It's in their power to defuse a situation instead of escalating it.

And it's in their power to do all of that without disturbing mama in a moment of sunny, damp, garden-induced bliss. They walked back into the house, bewildered, while I stood in the mud, ready to enjoy the prospect of untested super powers.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,