What kind of fighting behaviour have YOU seen?
- Does your child argue with you about every little detail while she tries to wrap you up with your own words?
- Do your sons argue and insult each other, until one of them finally explodes, turning anger into fisticuffs and screaming?
- Does your teenager try to shock you with a choice swear word then stomp off and slam her bedroom door?
Frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt or embarrassment can be overwhelming for children, until they learn the skills to handle them. Even pleasant emotions like excitement can reach the point of overload. It isn’t the emotion that’s the problem. It’s the size.
When they don’t know how to handle these big emotions, children and teenagers become overwhelmed and cross a line. They don’t know what to do, but instinct says ’If in doubt, come out fighting’.
When our children start fighting, it’s because their emotions swirl up and push them over the line. They enter the fight zone and I call that JUNGLE. Without even thinking, they release their inner monkey. (Let’s call him Inner MoE because he’s a Monkey on the Edge).
The jungle’s not a pleasant place. It’s stressful and overwhelming, but it’s not safe for a little monkey to look scared and vulnerable in the jungle. Don’t be surprised if your little monkey hides his vulnerable feelings on the inside and covers them up with a tough exterior. On the surface, he’s got his fists up and he looks ready for a FIGHT.
Sometimes jungle behaviour is obvious. They get loud and maybe even physical. Other times it’s more subtle. They try to tie us up with words or fight at an emotional level; pestering to wear us down into frustration or saying hurtful things. Whatever form the fighting behaviour takes, the key is to recognise it for what it truly is. They’ve crossed a line and entered...the JUNGLE!
Once we recognise the jungle, it takes the power out of it.
Every child goes through a phase of jungle behaviour at some stage. Some do it when they’re two years old while others might wait until they’re sixteen. It comes on at a time of intense emotion. Theyneed to learn how to cope with their emotional world but their emotions swirl so wildly that this is difficult. When we try to help, their instinct is to fight against us. They yell or insult us and sometimes we end up swinging through the trees with them.
We need strategies to help us deal with their fight response without joining in the fight. It helps to paint a line very clearly in our minds. We’re on one side and the jungle is on the other. When they start fighting, they’ve crossed the line. That’s not okay and we will deal with that, but first it’s important not to add to the fight. Even as adults, it takes some effort to overcome our own instinct to ‘come out fighting’ but it’s worth it. Once we can ‘Stay out of the jungle’, then we can help our children to come out of there too. If there was less fighting at home, just imagine how much room that would leave for all those wonderful moments like hugs and laughter?