The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

February 28, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Empower children to find own answers

JOPLIN, Mo. — I've often said that if it weren't for all the refereeing required of mothers, my job would be a perfect joy. I could focus on teaching basic skills to my children -- picking up after oneself, taking pride in a job well done, refilling mommy's plate of bon-bons -- and never deal with the hair-ripping stress that accompanies sibling battles.

My mood is directly dependent upon how well my children are treating each other, which isn't necessarily a healthy correlation, but there it is. When they get along, tossing the golden rule around in selfless handfuls, our days are lovely.

But when they cannot see their way through even the simplest disputes without devolving into screams, our days can turn very ugly.

Who wants to spend hours each day telling kids how to solve their problems? Who wants to stop everything to decide the winner of each sibling argument, all day long? Not me.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I don't have to be the referee; that it's more important for kids to learn how to solve their own problems than it is for me to ensure calm, happy days.

Robbing our children of the tools necessary to negotiate, empathize and think critically -- all the things I do when I step in to strong-arm an argument into dissolution -- is handicapping them with an inability to cope with social friction.

It's one thing to step back and let the little fighters duke it out on their own. It's quite another thing to put problem-solving tools into their hands and demonstrate the techniques. One makes nasty grudges and angry homes, while the other leads to peaceful families and confident kids.

So, what are these magical problem-solving tools? I've seen them listed on several websites and in a handful of parenting books, and while their authors might differ over minor details, they all paint with the same broad strokes.

When our kids come to us tattling about a disagreement, there are generally three steps to follow if we're trying to teach them how to solve their own problems.

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