By: Sandra L. Churchill
Styles of correction and guidance are among the most debated challenges shared by moms and dads today. We’ve witnessed a shift from corporal punishment to more discussion-based discipline over the years, and we all seem to juggle what is right for each child and what is fitting for each situation.
One strategy we’ve used from the time our older two children were around age four or five is a “tattletale reversal.” When the inevitable bickering would begin over a coveted toy or some other child battle, one or the other would come running to us with “She did…” or “She said…” in the familiar chorus of complaints known to any parent with multiple children. Instead of engaging in endless re-constructs of who-did-what-to-whom, we opted to flip it. We asked the first “announcer” to stop right there and sit down with the offending child side by side so we could talk. But instead of giving in to a lengthy diatribe of offenses in sequence, we asked each child to be silent for a moment while we issued a challenge: “Tell me one thing YOU could have done differently”. At first we got the inevitable objections of “But Mom…” or “No way… I didn’t do anything…she…” but when they realized Mom and Dad meant business, they took the time to cooperate.
Sometimes it took awhile, but the reflections were serious and pensive. The girls astounded us with their ponderings about attitude, tone, and snappy judgment. They sometimes said they interrupted each other or got mad before letting the other explain. Other times they said they needed to share more or be patient and not get upset and turn a small thing into a big fight.
We were astounded that such a small switch—a simple role reversal of sorts—could boost accountability, drop the emotional barometer, and restore peace much faster than a lengthy yelling match or banishing children to their rooms for a whole afternoon. So now I’m thinking we may have overlooked this opportunity when it comes to disagreements between spouses, friends, or extended family disagreements. Maybe next time we’ll stop and ask ourselves, “What could WE have done differently?” and return to peace with cooler heads and calmer spirits.