Managing conflict. A story of chalk and cheese…
Pretty much every morning my nine-year-old daughter can’t seem to get ready for school. Not every morning. But lots. It ends in tears. Not always. But lots. It is fair to say it’s a source of ongoing conflict – and it’s very hard to manage!
Even when she is trying to get it together, something ‘happens’ to make it all fall apart – in the final 20 minutes before we need to pile into the car to leave, somehow it all unravels. She can’t find something. She remembers something (and then can’t find it). She messes up her uniform and has nothing clean to change into. She can’t find her favourite damn headband/hair ties/sneakers. She has a sore wrist/foot/tummy…
My 12-year-old is meticulously on time and organised. So this daily event drives her absolutely nuts. She has tried helping (finding things, writing lunch orders for her, making her sister breakfast), she has tried to be ‘mum’ (issuing instructions and outlining consequences) and lastly, she’s tried the more traditional fight. Whereby she yells or shoves in frustration.
This last method obviously doesn’t help me.
While all this is happening I’m usually getting ready for work and praying my youngest will have it together this morning. I’ve yanked school notices from bags, signed the forms / inserted payment for excursions, made lunches and located ballet gear / violin, and possibly made a sprint to put my laptop in the car so I don’t (God forbid) leave it at home (not good to me at the office).
I tried everything to get it all on track (coaching, praising, helping, speaking calmly, giving boundaries). Finally… I got mad and… I confess, I yelled a few times. Actually, I am ashamed to say, a few mornings in a row.
None of it solved the conflict.
No matter what I did, it generally ended with my youngest daughter sobbing in the car all the way to school. After she’d struggled to the car half dressed, carrying her half open school bag with lunchbox stuffed in… While she finished brushing her hair and putting on her shoes and socks on the way to school.
I hate kissing her good bye at the gate with her blotchy face and red-rimmed eyes. I hated myself for not managing it better. This is not a good way to start a day at work.
I just wanted a conflict free morning. Regularly.
So after working really hard to breathe deeply after one particularly stressful morning (in the last weeks of last term), I did a couple of things I picked up from tips provided during Fight Free February that seemed to have worked (so far):
- I left myself off the hook that morning – I decided to think about it during the day and not to try and solve it then and there (that morning)
- I worked out a process for mornings – and consequences – I could stick to and that would matter to my daughter – this included:
- Saying I would give her a 10 minute warning before it was time to leave
- Explaining that it was unfair for her sister and I to be late because she was, and that we needed to work together on this, but
- If she could not be on time, I would not yell, I would not be angry, but I was going to leave on time, every time – and she would need to negotiate a lift to school with my mum (who we live with) and explain why.
- I made a decision to speak calmly and firmly about it – no matter what.
There have been a few mornings that have been touch and go – but at least I’ve stuck to my resolve with the plan and the approach. I’m calmer – because I have a plan. She is getting better at managing her time. So far so good.
Alicia Patterson, Fight Free February campaigner and single parent of two daughters. For more about Fight Free February go to www.fightfreefebruary.org.