Dear Mama Drama:
My sons have recently been very rude and sarcastic with each other. They are frequently putting each other down or making what I consider unnecessary negative comments about something the other one is sharing. They even do this thing where they say, “I don’t mean to offend you, but…” and they finish with something really offensive!
Do you have any ideas to help them speak more respectfully to each other?
~ Offended Mama
Bickering, sarcasm, and put downs are easy habits to get into between siblings, but with support, modeling, and reinforcement they can be replaced with more positive speech.
The first step is to take a look at how you as parents are talking to your children. I’m not blaming you for their behavior, but since we are the only ones we have real control over it helps to start with ourselves. It is easy as parents to slip into the habit of noticing on the things our kids are doing wrong and commenting or correcting only on the problems. When we do this without a balance of noticing all their positive choices, we model the critical, negative behavior in which you describe your sons engaging. A good rule of thumb, taken from the PBIS teachings of George Sugai, is to give four positive comments for every one correction or negative comment. Challenge yourself to this and see how things change.
The next step is to have a conversation with your sons about your observations of how they are speaking to each other. Give them a chance, without blaming, to express how they feel when these rude or sarcastic comments are made. Let them know how you feel when you see and hear these comments, too. And if you noticed in step one that you are being overly critical, own up to that and let them know you are going to work on making changes as well.
Then set some family expectation about how you will talk with each other. First, if you start as statement with, “I don’t mean to be rude or offend…” it will be rude or offense so don’t finish it. Second, before you say something take a moment to answer these three questions:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
All three questions should be answered with a yes or the comment should not be made. This doesn’t mean you can’t correct each other, it just means you can choose your words more carefully.
Use sticky notes to post these questions around your house as reminders to everyone to practice using them to guide their speech. Bathroom mirrors, kitchen cabinets, the dining room table, near the television, and inside the car are great places to start.
When you notice your sons stopping themselves from saying a negative comment or making kinder, supportive comments to each other make a big deal about it and recognize their efforts. You can even set up an easy positive recognition system that helps you remember to notice and gives them a concrete representation of the positive choices they are making.
An example is to put a marble in an empty jar every time you notice them making positive comments to each other. When the jar is full, do something fun together as a family. Putting a note on the jar stating what that activity will can help motivate them more. Make sure to follow through when the jar is full and choose something that you can all participate in together, continuing to encourage those positive interactions.
Remember that there will be days when they are cranky or are having a hard time. Be gentle with them, and yourself when you have those days, and encourage them to keep at it. The positive relationships you will build as a family are definitely worth it!
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.