Picture this. We’re out for a walk to get some fresh air. My two young companions needed a lot of coaxing to leave the house, but we’ve made it outside and down the street. Little brother finds a branch on the ground; a thin, long stick perfect for tapping on the footpath and rattling down the fences. A physical kid, still somewhat unaware of his body, he’s delighted by this and the walk gets more enjoyable – for him. Big sister, a gentle rule-follower, is already rather fed up with her younger sibling and his disregard for boundaries. And then the stick starts to accidently get in her space; touching her feet, knocking into her knees. One further knock with the stick and she snaps. In an uncharacteristic moment of assault, she stomps on the stick, breaking it in two.
Little brother is furious and deeply upset, verging on fight mode. Big sister is frustrated and somewhat indignant. I’m in the middle. Small branch, massive problem – any of this sound familiar?
My mind jumped first to problem-solving mode. I was tempted to growl, then referee, then fix everything.
- “What were you thinking? You’re the oldest here. You can see that he didn’t mean to hit you.”
- “And you, I told you to be more careful. This is what happens when you’re not careful. Anyway, it’s just a stick. Let’s find another one/Let’s tape it back together when we get home.”
However, then I had another thought. What these children both needed was validation – to feel seen and heard. I realised that my first idea for an approach was unlikely to soothe the tension, in fact it would probably make it worse.
So I tried something else. Not blaming, solving or fixing, just validating. All it took was a commentary from me on what had just happened.