When “snail mail” was a primary method of communication, every etiquette book included this advice: If you write a letter in the heat of emotion, keep it overnight and read it again the next morning with a clear head. Chances are you’ll decide not to send it.
Etiquette experts still advise against sending (or posting) communications while they’re “hot,” but few people are listening anymore. Standard procedure now is: if you’re mad at someone, dash off—and fire off—an email or text telling them exactly what you think. Better yet, open your social media account and share your grudge with half the world. It’s a perfect illustration of the old quip, “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”
At home, venting anger by opening one’s mouth is more likely to be literal—and just as certain to create more problems than it eliminates. Especially when your children learn the habit and start refusing to be bullied into shutting up.
If you’d rather maintain a peaceful home even amidst differences of opinion, use the following approaches instead.
- Make it a house rule that no one ever directly attacks someone else’s character or intelligence. That turns the disagreement into a personal battle, which smothers any likelihood of addressing the real issue.
- Take time to really hear out the other party, no matter how young they are or how contrary their ideas to “the way we’ve always done it.” They may be more right than your gut reaction thinks.
- Always show respect, not just to your kids but to everyone else—whether or not the “one” is immediately present. There are already too many self-centered bad attitudes in this world; don’t add to them, or encourage your children to develop them, by screaming at your spouse or by filling everyday conversation with criticism of your least favorite boss/politician/author.
- If you’re faced with a child (or anyone else) who absolutely refuses to listen to or speak with reason, don’t counter with direct force; you’ll only wind up with two irrationally furious people instead of one. Remove the target from the line of fire instead: declare a time-out period, excuse yourself to your room, or just ignore the tantrum until it blows itself out. Once the child calms down, you can return to discussing the situation rationally.
- If your children are arguing, stand clear and let them settle it, unless one party is unquestionably abusing the other or serious damage seems imminent (ordinary shouting and pushing doesn’t count). If you must intervene, avoid taking sides; even if one party is a few years bigger than the other, treat them equally in time-outs and debriefing. Reprimanding just one only sows seeds of future arguments by turning it into a matter of “Mommy always liked you ”
- Keep everyday focus firmly on win–win goals and what others are doing right. Your focus today will determine your attitude—and your children’s, and by extension your world’s—for years to come.
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!