If you don’t stop fighting, I’ll …

From the editor

Kids somehow emerge from the womb already programmed to know how to push our buttons. That’s why many of us can relate to New York mom Madlyn Primoff-but just to a point. She’s the mom who made national headlines when she ordered her bickering pre-teens out of the car and drove off.

I hate to admit this, but when my kids’ fighting and arguing reach window-shattering fervor and I’ve had way more than enough, I’ve threatened to “stop this car right now and leave you here,” words Primoff allegedly told her 10- and 12-year-old girls. Of course, unlike Primoff, most of us parents who have leveled similar threats would never even stop, much less drive off. Our threats are empty.

Parenting experts have long warned us against threatening our kids without following through. Empty threats do nothing to make them behave long-term, though it just might scare them enough to be quiet for the rest of the trip.

Primoff’s story has fascinated me since it broke because with a 13-year-old, 9-year-old and 6-year-old I’ve been in her shoes too many times. I know I’m not alone in these sibling battles because other parents have told me about their own struggles. So I reached out to Parent Coach Cathy Cassini Adams, because I like the no-nonsense advice she offers in her zen, been-there-done-that sort of way.

I wanted to know: Are there a couple of tricks that really work to get past the fighting without doing or saying something inappropriate and ineffective?

She says yes.

Tip number one: Focus on yourself, she advises.

“When you feel your frustration growing because things are getting loud and out of hand, be conscious of how you are feeling,” she says. “If you respond to your children’s fighting with fighting words or threats it will potentially make matters worse.”

Instead, she says, take a few breaths or say a calming mantra like “this too shall pass”.

Tip number two: Defuse the moment with humor.

When her kids are arguing in the backseat, she’ll jest, “I just love how everyone is getting along and it’s just so peaceful.” Or she’ll turn up the radio and start singing at the top of her lungs. “The comment or the singing will usually get the kids’ attention, they might crack a smile or they might just look at me with confusion (but at least they’re not fighting!),” she says.

Tip number three: Distraction. Change the subject or start a new conversation, she says. Just maybe the kids will even forget what they are arguing about.

None of us start off intending to be parents who yell or threaten. In my case, it takes an extreme amount of bickering and nails-to-a-chalkboard whining before I react (though I must admit that getting to the end of my rope is a lot shorter these days.)

I also have tried old-fashioned timeouts, separating them by sending them to their rooms and screaming above the mayhem. In the moment of quiet that follows, though, comes the guilt.

Primoff now admits she made a mistake. As parents, we all make mistakes from time to time, but thank goodness our mistakes don’t often catch the attention of the national media and bloggers.

As the kids leave school for summer this month, I’m sure we will all have plenty of opportunities to practice our patience and forgiveness of mistakes.

I wish you all luck with that and a happy Father’s Day to all the dads.

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