Is Your Kids' Fighting Driving You Crazy?

Learn how to soothe kids' emotions and prevent constant conflict.

Posted Dec 29, 2019

In this excerpt from the LSCI Institute's new book, Parenting the Challenging Child: The 4-Step Way to Turn Problem Situations Into Learning Opportunities, readers “listen in on” a conversation between a parent and child in which a mother uses LSCI’s consistent, step-by-step verbal framework to help her son begin to understand and change his destructive interactions with his siblings.

The New Tools Intervention: Teaching New Social Skills

Do you frequently find your child becoming frustrated and confused in social situations? Does he go into a situation with good intentions, but comes out of it with the wrong results? Are sibling and peer interactions a constant struggle? 

For kids who frequently misunderstand interpersonal cues and lack appropriate social behaviors, daily life can feel like an endless series of frustrations, missteps, humiliations, and indignities. The New Tools intervention is designed to meet the needs of young people who want to do the right thing, but find that things keep coming out wrong. 

The Situation:

Chris wants to play with his brothers Eddie and Mike. While Eddie and Mike are playing a video game, Chris reaches over, grabs Mike’s game controller and starts to control his character. In Chris’s mind, he is trying to help Mike get to the next level. In Mike’s mind, Chris just stole his game controller and ruined his game.  Mike punches Chris in the arm—hard!

Chris becomes upset. He tries to punch Mike back, but Eddie stops him. Both Eddie and Mike yell at Chris to leave their room. Chris is distraught. His arm hurts and he feels confused, saddened, and rejected by his brothers. He approaches his mother for help with the situation.

The 4-Step LSCI Intervention Process

Below, we share an example of what a New Tools intervention between Chris and his mother might sound like, using LSCI’s 4-step process. Note: There is no “script” to an LSCI intervention. Your conversation with your child does not have to sound precisely like our example. In fact, the dialogue presented below is likely more detailed than your conversation would be with your own child.  For teaching purposes, we have drawn out the dialogue to demonstrate specific skills such as:

  • The use of clarifying questions that encourage the child to examine his thoughts
  • Affirmations that encourage the child to keep telling his story
  • Summarizing statements to keep the young person focused & on track 
  • Paraphrasing statements to demonstrate active listening and interest

NOTE: While the length of the conversation outlined below may be longer than your typical conversation with your child, understand that the level of detail is helpful to Chris who, because of his deficits in social skills, needs his mother's help in connecting the dots.  If Chris had verbalized frustration with the length of the conversation, his mother would have sensed his dismay and moved the conversation along.  Don't be dismayed or discouraged by the conversation's length;  we encourage you to learn from the structure and the key phrases used here but to always maintain your own authenticity in your interactions with a child.

Step 1: De-escalate the intensity of the child’s emotions.

Chris: (Walking in to Mother’s room) They are always ganging up on me! I hate them both!

Mom:  (Stands up to give Chris a hug)

Chris: (Gives his mom a hug, then returns to being upset) Can you please do something about Mike and Eddie? They are not letting me play! And Mike punched me really hard! (Rubs his arm where he was punched).

Mom: Are you OK?

Chris: I’m fine. He can’t hurt me. He’s just mad because I’m better than him at his own game.

Mom: It looks like you’re pretty mad right now too. Sounds like there’s a lot going on with you and your brothers. 

Chris: (Starts to cry) I just don’t know why they are always so mean to me. Why won’t they let me play?

Mom: It’s so hard to feel left out. I’m sorry you are hurting right now. Would you like some help trying to sort it all through?

Chris: I need you to make them let me play.

Mom: Let’s see what we can do to make things better. Why don’t you start by telling me what happened?

Step 2: Help Chris Bring Language to Emotions and talk about his intentions in taking the game controller.

Chris: Mike punched me in the arm because he’s so jealous that I’m better than he is!

Mom: Mike punched you in the arm because he is jealous?

Chris: He punched me when I showed him that I’m better than him at his own game.

Mom: That sounds like a real problem I’ll need to deal with.  Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it but it’s helpful for me to start at the beginning. How was school today?

Chris: Fine.

Mom: Great. So, how were you feeling when you got home from school?

Chris: I was happy. I finished all of my homework in school so I was excited to play Xbox.

Mom: Sounds good so far.

Chris:  Yeah, but when I went to play, Mike and Eddie were already playing something.

Mom: Were you upset when you saw them already playing?

Chris:   No, I was actually happy because Mike was playing my favorite game but I know that I’m better at it than he is so I was excited to show him how to get to the next level.

Mom: I think that’s great that you wanted to help Mike get to the next level. Some kids might compete with their brother or brag about how good they are, but you actually wanted to help your brother do better in the game. I’m impressed.

Chris: Yeah. He’s been trying for the last week and I know he is frustrated. I figured it out last night and so I want to show him how to do it.

Mom: That’s a great idea. Tell me what happened when you first walked into the room.

Chris: I sat down and started to watch Mike and Eddie playing. We were all sort of laughing and joking and having a good time. I even brought up drinks for all of us.

Mom:  That was a nice thing to do.

Chris: (Appears proud) I know. 

Mom: So, then what happened after you gave them their drinks?

Chris: I just watched Mike for a while and tried to give him some pointers, but he kept telling me to ‘shut up’ so that he could concentrate.

Mom: Do you remember what you were thinking when he told you to ‘shut up?’

Chris: I thought he shouldn’t tell me to ‘shut up’ because I have really good information about the game and if he listened to me, he’d be a better player.

Mom: So, you were thinking you had information that would benefit him. That makes sense. I wonder what he might have been thinking?

Chris: He said I was distracting him!

Mom: Oh, so when you talk while he plays, he gets distracted. I can understand that. Did you give him the quiet he asked for?

Chris: Yeah, for the most part.

Mom: For the most part? 

Chris: I was mostly quiet but I had to tell him a few things so that he didn’t keep messing up.

Mom: How did that go?

Chris: Not very well because he threw a pillow at me and told me to ‘shut up’ a few more times. But he was doing it wrong and I needed to tell him!

Mom: I see. How do you think Mike might have been feeling when he threw the pillow at you?

Chris: Probably mad.

Mom: Probably mad. Yeah, I think you might be right about that. Do you remember what you were thinking?

Chris: I was thinking that he needed to listen to me because I know more than him and I can help him get to the next level.

Mom: Ahhh, you were thinking you wanted to help.  Did you think that Mike wanted your help?

Chris: Not really. But he still needs it.

Mom: OK, let me make sure I have this correct: You walked into the room with drinks for your brothers, which is a really nice thing to do. You were watching Mike play and trying to give him tips, but he told you that your talking distracted him. Then, he told you to ‘shut up’ a few times and threw a pillow at you. These things helped you realize that he was getting mad and that he probably did not want help. You were convinced that he needed help, though, so you kept talking anyway. 

Chris: I got tired of watching him mess up. He was about to die so I grabbed the controller and rescued his character. I was about five seconds from getting him to the next level but that’s when he and Eddie both started yelling at me. It was so hard to concentrate on the game with their screaming!

Mom: Their screaming made it hard for you to concentrate and get Mike’s character to the next level.

Chris: Yep. It was so loud that I accidentally got his character killed and then Mike punched me in my arm. Look how red it still is!

Mom: It really is red, honey. That must hurt. I am going to need to talk to Mike about this because I never want any of you resorting to violence when you are upset. Before I talk to him, though, let’s you and I keep talking and see if we can figure out how to avoid something like this happening again in the future.

Chris:  I have an idea for that! We can just put the Xbox in my room. Since Mike is so bad at it and doesn’t listen to how to play better, maybe he shouldn’t be allowed to play anymore.

What's Next?

  • In Step 3 of the process, Chris' mom helps her son understand and verbalize that his intentions were good (helping his brothers succeed in the game) but the way he went about his goal (stealing Mike's game controller) was unwise. 
  • Then, in Step 4, she closes the loop on the conversation by teaching Chris more positive ways to interact socially with his siblings (and peers) and practicing some of the skills with him in real time. 

Click here to read Part 2 of the conversation.

The text of the full conversation is featured in Chapter 7 of Parenting the Challenging Child.

References

Whitson, S. (2019)  Parenting the Challenging Child: The 4-Step Way to Turn Problem Situations Into Learning Opportunities.  Hagerstown, MD: The LSCI Institute.