We went on a homeschool trip today. It was a walk through a wildlife preserve, a marsh. We had enough Jewish homeschoolers for two groups, littles and bigs (so exciting how our homeschool community is growing), and everyone got binoculars.
(As a sidenote, I am still not able to comfortably go on trips with my brood. In the 20 minute, blissfully short drive home, my little ones managed to dump the entire garbage bag on the floor of the car. All the carefully collected orange peels and squeezed oranges and spit out parts. And wrappers...)
We were on the littles walk, and I'm not sure what happened exactly because I was looking at an egret, but Jack (6) suddenly started shrieking. He had dirt on his face. He and Aharon (5) were screaming at each other and crying and hitting each other. There was a fight over a fruit roll up and someone was throwing dirt on or putting his finger on someone's eye or touching someone or taking something. Lots of screaming. They started chasing each other around, smacking each other, kicking each other, etc.
I eventually realized they were arguing over whose fruit roll it is, assured them that I had packed one for each of them as per their requests when I had asked them the night before what to pack, and that I had packed each child's food in a separate bag inside the large bag I was carrying.
Despite Jack being reassured that his food was safe, he was still upset at Aharon. Or was it Aharon who was still upset at Jack. They kept attacking each other.
Everybody stopped and turned to look. I'm kind of used to this going on in the home, so I hadn't reacted or gotten involved (other than to reassure them that they both had a fruit roll up) but seeing everyone frozen around me, I realized how intensely they were fighting.
The ranger stepped in when they were writhing on the floor throwing gravel at each other. She told them to stop throwing the gravel. I don't know if she was concerned about the environment or she just wanted them to stop fighting.
I stepped over to her and said something like, "They just need another minute to finish fighting" or something like that. I wasn't explaining myself well and I don't think I conveyed what I was thinking and I wasn't even sure exactly what I was sensing.
I've been thinking about it, trying to clarify my thoughts. Why didn't I step in and what was I waiting for.
Basically, I've sensed a pattern in their fights. Children who are more or less evenly matched or who live together and get into frequent disagreement have a sense of when the fight is over, and both parties tend to agree.
**Irony: I just got interrupted from writing a post on sibling rivalry because J came in and poured a bucket of water on A because A stole his kippah and jumped on him because J kicked him because A... Forget it; I'm not qualified to write a post on sibling rivalry. Well, I'm qualified to write a post on the phenomenon but not the solution.***
So what ends the fighting interaction?
They hit back and forth and finally one agrees that the other gets the final smack. Sometimes the smaller one knows he is just going to get smacked harder. So it goes like this: he smacks..then his brother smacks him slightly harder...then he feels upset so he smacks again to even it out...but his brother smacks him slightly harder...so he realizes this is just going to keep happening and he backs off.
Or Sometimes one knows he's been a bit of a jerk and agrees that the other one deserves to get in a final smack. That's the best way for it to end, because they both feel that justice has been served.
If they don't feel complete, then you end up with the anger or hurt or frustration still simmering, and it bubbles up again, and comes up again.
That's why when they were chasing each other around, I wanted to give them a chance to work out their conflict physically. I know that it's popular to learn to use your words. But I've just seen that it is waaaaay more efficient for them to fight it out. It's quicker, it addresses the feelings in a thorough and complete manner, and it resolves.
I wonder, in fact, if the bucket incident is a result of this unresolved conflict simmering between them since they couldn't fight it out completely at the wildlife refuge. And me stepping in to stop it because I don't want water spilled all over my house also frustrated it. If it doesn't work itself out at bedtime, I suppose there is always tomorrow.
I do find, though, overall, it is best to allow them to "fight to completion." When I get involved, I tend to over-complicate things, I miss facts, I'm unfair, and I often exacerbate the conflict. When they fight it out, it usually takes a few minutes, they always only use just enough force to make their point, and one or both of them back off in a way that they both agree to. I'll try to observe more about at what point they break off fighting. I'm sure I'll get some opportunities if they are in a conflict-ful phase.