“Every time you’re silly, somebody always gets hurt.” | Teaching Self-Government

“Every time you’re silly, somebody always gets hurt.”

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I was standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, when all of the sudden the happy children noises from the basement changed into cries and yells.  I remember distinctly hearing a sad noise or yell from each of my four children.  Now, doing the dishes seemed fun compared with sorting out what happened in the basement.  I dried my hands and took a deep breath.  I wanted to make sure I was calm so that the obviously stressful situation wouldn’t control my emotions.  A clear head and calm soul can change hearts and teach minds.

Of course I didn’t make it all the way downstairs before the children started coming up the stairs with their cries and complaints. I turned around and lead them up the stairs. 

My first priority was to make sure no one was really hurt. If so, I would have administered first aid before teaching to the situation. None of the children had any serious injuries. My four year old had a hurt leg, my six year old had bumped her head, my ten year old hurt her face, and my 12 year old's back hurt. 

After I assessed the situation, I learned the children had been wrestling and laughing. They were throwing each other around on the basement couch and doing tricks. To make long story short, they all bonked into each other or got hurt and then became reactive toward the person who accidentally hurt them. ( I say accidentally, but sometimes it really was on purpose… it’s just that the person doing the action didn’t really know it would hurt another person.)

I have a rule and a song for teaching to these kinds of situations. The first rule is that no one will probably earn a negative consequence because they all got what was coming to them by getting hurt. Pain is sometimes a good teacher. 

I said to the children, “Just now…” and I described what everyone told me happened, so that they knew I completely understood the situation. Just knowing that I listened to their complaints and told them I understood what they were concerned about calmed most of their anxieties. Then I said, “It sounds like you were all being pretty silly.” Then I sang, “Every time you’re silly — somebody always gets hurt."

I then said, "If you don’t want to get hurt like this you shouldn’t play such silly games. If you choose to play silly and wrestle you need to know that you could get hurt. OK?” 

They all said, “OK” and went on to other activities. 

Sometimes I find it necessary to pull the oldest child or children aside and remind them of their responsibilities with rough play. I instruct them that as the oldest they are to try to keep everyone safe and happy. They need to protect the smaller children from danger whenever possible, and rough house in a gentle manner. 

My children are so used to this song, or family rule, about being silly, that now when they come to me with an injury from playing rough, all I have to do is say, “Every time your silly...“  and they finish the rest, “...somebody always gets hurt.” Then they give me a hug for comfort and go back to playing; sometimes even roughly. But, that’s OK because at this point they have been reminded that they're making a choice to play rough, and part of that choice is being strong. Silly play is part of childhood and promotes bonding most of the time, so I say go ahead and play, but have a policy for when they get hurt; because they will. With a plan of how to handle the situation already in place, then silly situations don’t have to be stressful for me either. 

Show love—Describe the Scene—Sing the Song—Done!

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