If you’re a parent of two (or more) small children you know that sometimes they can squabble and annoy each other a bit. My kids, Emily (age 7) and Kyle (age 4), occasionally have a disconnect with each other, also known as a fight or argument, also known as having one of my nerves explode in my head. They usually come running to me to complain loudly about the actions of their sibling. They both present their case at the same time, and it’s hard to make heads or tails of what really happened, who really started it, and who is at fault.
Recently I realized that trying to get to the bottom of the problem didn’t really help much because they were still mad at each other. They each wanted the other to be blamed and sanctioned so they could feel justified. So on a whim I came up with a brilliant plan to get the two kids back to a state of love for each other.
We start in the kitchen where there are floor tiles. I have each child stand on a tile with about 5 tiles between them. That immediately separates them so there’s no physical contact. I stand between them but out of the line of sight. This is how the conversation goes:
Me: Express your feelings towards each other, one at a time. If what you say is a negative you’re going to take one step back. If what you say is positive, you get to take one step forward. If you take more than 4 steps back, you get to go to your room and do something on your own away from your sibling until you feel like playing with each other again. But if you step forward and eventually connect then you guys can play with each other again. Our goal here is to get back to love or take a break from each other for a while. Let’s begin.
Emily: I hate Kyle. He’s mean!
Me: Okay, take one step back. (This illustrates for her a real physical disconnect with her brother as she moves further away from him.) Okay Kyle, your turn.
Kyle: I hate Emily. She put my truck too high and I can’t reach it.
Me: Okay, take a step back Kyle. (I don’t put judgment in my voice, but I can see they feel the disconnect.) Emily, it’s your turn to say something.
Emily: (She looks behind her at the stairs and then at Kyle. I can tell she would rather play with Kyle than play alone). Kyle’s cute when he wants to be.
Me: Hey, that’s nice! Take a step forward, Emily. (Now she’s smiling)
Kyle: I like Emily when she lets me play with her.
Me: Hey, Kyle. You get to take a step forward too. (Now they’re enjoying the game)
Emily: I love Kyle.
Me: Awesome! Take a step forward.
Kyle: I love Emily!
Me: Hey, you get to take a step forward too.
Emily: I’m sorry I yelled at you Kyle. If you want, I’ll help you get your truck down off the high shelf.
Me: That’s very nice of you Emily, take another step forward.
Eventually they came together and hugged each other. Holding hands and laughing, they ran off to continue playing with each other. The next time they had an argument, instead of running up to me and kavetching and doing the “he said”, “she said” thing, Emily came up to me and said, “Mom, I think we need to go to the kitchen and get back to love.”
So that’s what we do. They each usually take one negative stab at each other before they begin saying positive things. I was really amazed that it worked, but it’s worked really well. Recently I heard Emily saying to Kyle, “Come on Kyle, go stand on your tile.” And they played the game themselves without me being there.
I kind of wonder what would happen if adults played this game when they got mad at each other. When you take a step back from your partner you can really feel the disconnect and it doesn’t feel good. When you take a step closer to your partner it feels much better.
It takes surprisingly little time for the kids to get back to love and forget their argument. Their natural state is love and playfulness. As they see themselves moving further away from each other I think they can really feel that disconnect and it’s not comfortable or pleasant. And as they move towards each other it creates this magnetic pull and desire to get back together faster. And they can also see that it takes both of them to accomplish this.
My last nerve is still alive thanks to this game. This may work with your kids too, or even your spouse or partner. Give it a try next time you have a disconnect with someone you love, or try it with your own children and see what happens.