Wednesday 21 August 2013

Sibling Relationships // How to reduce the Fighting with 'Soft Words'

As I wrote about recently, we have been working on a little 'family values' poster project. 

Our next value (mmmm, maybe value isn't exactly the right word here, but you catch my drift!) was 'Speaking Gently'

In family life, *how* we speak to each other often becomes just as important as *what* we say (ever noticed that?!). Recently I'd noticed that the tone of the interactions between Lily and Eli were sometimes getting a little 'sharp and squealy' for my liking! The high-pitched/whiny 'Stop!!! Move away!! I was playing with that! Noooo, don't touch, that's mine!!' type thing. Ahhhhh, like nails on a chalkboard, huh!? ;) Generally, they play/negotiate/discuss and get along sooooo well, but I had started to notice this type of 'sharp' response creeping in and really wanted to nip it in the bud before it became a standard for their interaction. I totally understand those responses are so instinctual when you feel 'wronged' but I also feel like with practise and purpose, we can train ourselves to slow down and respond differently out of a 'new habit' - and perhaps turn the whole interaction around. A big call for little hearts but a good one to begin working on early before those sharp response patterns become entrenched. Creating consciousness in them about how they were speaking, as well as showing them a 'better way' would be the first step. This is where 'scripting' often comes in, but I will write about that in another post!

What I noticed in particular was how things would escalate so often not from the initial statement or action (by Child A) but from the response (by Child B) at which point, things could get really 'heated'. So I wanted to work on 'cutting that circuit'.... just with baby steps, as I understand that negotiation and self-control are skills that must be learned over time (and often take a lifetime to fine-tune, as I sadly know too well!).

So with all those thoughts churning around, I figured 'speaking gently' would be a good subject for us to focus on next. I had a Proverb in mind to use along with it that has always struck me for its wisdom and real-life applicability. It applied especially well to the case of 'sibling-interaction-escalation!' (and, it should be noted, parent-child-interaction too!! Ahem).

''A soft answer makes anger disappear,
 but a rough answer makes it grow.''
Proverbs 15.1

I compiled a couple of translations to use the words that were most understandable to the kids... I loved this translation as the 'soft/rough' words were so graphic and clear - and I loved the visual of our response making anger either grow or disappear! This is a scripture full of such truth and wisdom - so very powerful! 

I looked around online for an activity as I thought such a core concept could use something extra to help the kids really understand the difference they could make with their words and even their tone. I found this simple and sweet one to base my own activity on -  I loved how it made soft and rough words so real!

We cut out some little sheets of sandpaper and got a pile of cotton balls and glue. The kids and I had a chat about our words and how we could use them in different ways in our family. We read the verse together and I explained to the kids how rough words and soft words could make someone feel by encouraging the kids to rub either the sandpaper or cotton ball on their bare arms. How does it feel when someone uses rough words with you? (It hurts me!) How does it feel whens someone uses soft words (nice and gentle and soft!). We had quite a fun (and funny!) time having pretend conversations where someone would answer in a rough way (ouch!!) or a soft way (ooh, that feels nice!). They really got into it and we laughed as we role played. I could see they were really understanding the concept and getting a lot out of it too. We walked through how, even if someone said/did something a little bit rough, we could choose to respond 'softly' and that would 'cover up' the rough words (or, 'put out the fire', if you will) and make things so much better! Sometimes it is better not to fight fire with fire... if you don't want to burn your home down, right???

For example:

Eli: (grabs a toy -  - may or may not realise L was using it)
Lily (calmly): Eli, I'm still using that right now, please can you give it back to me? You can have a turn in a minute, ok? (soft - rub that nice cotton ball!)

Eli hands it back. Done :)

 - as opposed to -

E: (grabs a toy - may or may not realise L was using it)
Lily (frantically): NOOOOOOOO, Eli!! That's mine! Give it back!!!! 

(rough - scratchy sandpaper!)

Eli holds on to toy for dear life! Problems escalate!

I should note here that of course, ideally 'Child A' would not snatch, complain or whine in the first place! And we talked about and work on that too. But when Child A makes a bad choice, it is certainly a lot easier to deal with that behaviour if Child B does not escalate the situation! (So Mama then has two upset kids to deal with!). Plus as we have seen, a soft response can often totally diffuse a potential melt down and avoid needing intervention too, so they can negotiate and work out issues more independently.

We reenacted quite a few *familiar* scenes using both rough words and soft words so they could see the difference those words could make. The key I think is realising that THEY can change the direction themselves, by choosing to calm themselves and use softer words - instead of immediately 'arking up' with rough words that only make the situation worse. They especially loved it when I tried out using some rough words too (wailing over wanting a toy, haha) so they could hear what it sounded like to me for once!! ;) 

Afterwards, they glued the cotton balls to the sandpaper, to remind us that God wants us to use soft words with each other, and that our soft words will help 'cover up' any rough/angry words and help them go away. We stuck them up on our little 'family command centre', but the kids still like to take them down to use every now and then! 

Later that day, when Lily responded cheerfully and obediently to a request I made, she pointed to the little cotton ball craft and said 'I bet that felt really soft to you, Mummy!'  It sure did! :)

Since then, using phrases like 'Try using some soft words', 'That sounded a bit like rough words to me'  and 'Do you think that feels soft or rough?' have been good reminders to slow down and watch words and tone. I've noticed both of them (unprompted) sometimes stop just as they are about to get upset, take a breath and instead use gentle words with each other - which is just gorgeous and such a relief to see!!! And they see for themselves the difference this makes!

Of course, it's not all soft and cosy cotton balls around here!! ;) They are still learning and so am I. It's a process but this little project has been a good reminder to dig deep into understanding the power of choice that we have. One little craft activity is absolutely not a one-fix-wonder, but it helps to understand big concepts in a very concrete way about the impact their words can have. This little activity also hit the nail on the head in terms of my strong belief in 'training in times of non-conflict'. Of course, that takes a little extra energy, initiation and creativity from me too - I don't always have the resources to do this but I just do what I can, when I can - focusing on one key area at a time really helps make it more manageable. They are so much more open to grasping these concepts when we talk about them when not in the midst of a melt down or argument. Instead everyone was relaxed and happy and open to receiving these words into their little hearts. It takes us all back to the foundations and refreshes us all to aim higher, do better and keep learning together.

Later I was reflecting on how it went and feeling thankful that they understood so well. But as I pondered, that proverb cut through my own heart - as God's Word tends to do!! I mean, God's Word and that verse is not just for kids!! It was speaking to me too. How often (and how easy!) is it for me to respond 'roughly' to someone, especially when I feel like they have spoken roughly to me?! With my kids most of all - if they are whiny, cranky or argumentative, how tempting it is to respond in kind with a frustrated, sharp or cranky voice? How much better do things go if I respond calmly, lovingly, empathetically (but still firmly)? Much, much better.

Of course, the kids are not the only people in my world (just the ones who take up most of my time, haha!). The same goes for my dear husband, my extended family, the grumpy shop assistant and so on. Even when I don't get spoken to or treated exactly how I would like, I have a choice in whether to escalate or diffuse the situation. A harsh response can stoke the fires of anger, but a soft word may douse it completely and turn the situation around... especially if it's just someone else's hard day, tired moment or even good old miscommunication stirring up things. It's funny how often in this world we get the idea that we should fight fire with fire - if someone speaks to us unpleasantly, we should volley it back to them. God turns it upside down when He encourages us to instead respond with softness. It's so easy to see the flaw in an angry response when I see it in my kids. It's so much easier to justify that response in myself!!!!

I am blessed to regularly see how a gentle response works through my own wonderful husband, Mark. He has a great habit of responding gently and compassionately, rather than 'firing back'. If it's me being cranky or frustrated, it immediately melts me and helps me realise he is not 'the enemy' but rather I am usually just tired/stressed/worried about something else. I see him work his magic on others too :) I admit I am more likely to 'fire back' when seemingly attacked by someone (oops) and have learnt so much from his gentle ways of responding.

Food for thought indeed. God's word is so rich and I love how something can be found in it for every age and every stage!

Mmmm, can you seem what word I almost (horror!) misspelled? If only I was
fussy enough to re-do the whole thing but I just could not be bothered ;)

Anyway, we all learnt a lot as you can see from this little activity and Family Values lesson. It will be a looooooong work in progress for us all, but it is encouraging to be on the same page, reaching for the highest standard. We fail, we fall, we grump and we return fire with fire. But we also slowly learn to cover roughness with softness and when we do, we all reap the good results of a more respectful and harmonious home and life. We can forgive when we fail and encourage each other to do better. That's what family is for... we are a graceful learning ground for life :)


  1. Kate, I seriously love this. Struck a cord with me for sure. xx

  2. Wow Kate...I headed back to your blog tonight with the intent to comment on your first family values post from last week and saw this one just waiting for me to read. I wanted to say originally how much I enjoyed your first post and how it really resonated with me, then this one, wow!, it was exactly what I needed to hear today after a particularly tricky day of lots of rough words [and sadly, many of them coming out of my mouth :-(] I'd like to think that I'm at least aware that getting angry and frustrated is not helpful, but in the heat of the moment, well, often that's just what my children hear. Not surprisingly, I hear a lot of it back from them these days. I do make an effort to make amends with them after my emotions simmer down, but ideally, not getting worked up in the first place would be preferable! This activity is such a simple, yet powerful one, and one I shall be commencing immediately with my children (if you don't mind?) I agree that teaching the concept when everyone is getting along is much easier than trying to implement it after everyone is screaming and crying! Your posts about parenting are always inspiring to me, and I always come away with a fresh perspective to try things a little differently, so I thank you very, VERY much!

    1. Sarah thanks so much for your comment, it really meant a lot to me! oh hon, i can Sooooo relate to the things you said too - and yes even when we know those 'rough' words are just making things worse, it can be so hard to hold them back sometimes when we have just reached our limit :( (but it's a good reminder too that the kids are also learning that self control if we still struggle!). I would love for you to try this out w your kiddos!! I didnt invent it or anything plus sharing ideas and support is what this blog is all about :) let me know how it goes down and hopefully we can keep encouraing each other to use soft words ourselves to model them for our kids :)

  3. what a great post, this activity sounds so productive...
    but even if we try to be a good example, we aren't the only ones who interactuate with them, so i guess it'll be a good activity for my child too when she grows up.
    i totally agree with you that sometimes our interlocutor's a bad day, missunderstood us etc, but if we speak them gently, we can change the course of the conversation.

    1. so true wendie that we are not the only ones to interact with our kiddos - less and less so as they grow. hopefully if they learn more and more to respond in gentleness rather than 'fire back', all kinds of conflict can be doused early! x

  4. I love the idea of teaching kids to self-manage conflict.

  5. What a great analogy for dealing with those tricky situations. My kids need to do that one too!


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