Although watching people fight seems to be a national pastime (on TV, in political debates, and all over the tabloids), I don’t know a single person who enjoys the fighting at home. Sometimes it feels like there’s no hope in sight. (But there is . . . keep reading.)
Eight days ago, I had one of “those mornings.”
Child 4 hit Child 1 in the face “accidentally,” Child 1 pushed Child 3 off the edge of the bed while playing under the covers, Child 4 wouldn’t let Child 3 help with the blanket fort, and Child 1 came up and tattled through the closed bathroom door (where I just needed a couple of minutes of privacy). I got Child 1 and Child 3 involved in another activity and then went downstairs to have a discussion with Child 4, but Child 3 started screaming again because Child 1 wouldn’t share. Then Child 2 and Child 4 started fighting over a pair of shoes that Child 4 gave to Child 2–but they were actually loaned (not given), because they still fit Child 4.
After two hours of this (I’ll spare you the details), I asked my children, “Do you guys plan this? Do you wake up in the morning and wonder how much you can fight before I will cry?”
So if any of you can relate, today I’d like to share two ways to handle the fighting.
First, let’s talk about what to do in the moment.
In Siblings Without Rivalry the authors have included illustrated cartoons showing helpful responses to fighting. Here’s a page of the book that changed my whole week:
This illustration shows two children fighting over a toy (but it applies equally to teenagers fighting over clothes, etc.), and the parent says, “Boy, you two sound angry at each other!”
Then the parent continues to talk to each child as he tries to understand each of their perspectives (one child wanted to build a zoo by himself, and the other child wanted to play, too).
In the fourth and fifth frames, the dad says, “I see. Hmm . . . this is a tough one. Two children who both want to use the same toys at the same time. I have confidence that if you two put your heads together, you’ll come up with a solution that feels fair to each of you.”
And then the parent walks away to read the newspaper.
This is not how I had been handling the fighting. I kept getting involved. I kept trying to reason with my children. I kept promoting the virtues of kindness and pleading with them to be nice to each other. But you know what? It works a thousand times better when I really listen, let my children know I care and I understand, and then let them figure it out for themselves.
In Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking, the methods are written specifically for preschoolers, which is why I’m including two books here. My four-year-old is totally beyond reason right now, so I have to spend a considerable amount of each day deliberately teaching and training him.
Just the title page of this book is enough to make me feel giddy. It covers ways to solve problems like resisting bedtimes, temper tantrums, whining, interrupting, getting into things, possessiveness, wanting their own way, not following directions, and messiness. Can I hear a “Hallelujah”?
Seriously, if you’re struggling with the specifics of mothering, these two books will be like gold for you.
And now, for part two, I’d like to talk about how we prevent the fighting.
There are tons of excellent resources out there about helping children get adequate rest, nutritious meals, and regular quiet times, and these have all been extremely helpful to me, but my focus today will be on charts.
My children complain sometimes that we have charts for everything, but to be perfectly honest, a collection of very specific charts brings beautiful structure to family life. It’s taken years of trial and error for us, but here’s what’s working right now:
(1) Money Charts that are Separate from Behavior Charts
We have a chart where they fill in their squares/music note for accomplishing the regular responsibilities I don’t want to nag them about. I’ve talked with lots of parents who pay their children for work and then fine them for bad behavior, but children will almost always become in debt to their parents when using this model. In our family, it works to keep money and behavior separate. The Eyres have more to say on this, if you’re interested.
(2) A “Move-Your-Clip” Behavior Chart
Family rules are written on the top of this chart, and consequences are spelled out for each move of the clip (no dessert, 20 minutes resting on bed, lose 30 minutes of screen time, go to bed 30 minutes early).
(3) A Car Seating Chart
I know it sounds silly, but we have a monthly rotation for where we sit in the van, and the fighting over this has stopped. (One mom I know drew a picture of a car and put sticky notes with her children’s photos on them in each seat.) For me doing this is not hard at all, since I got my convertible seats changing cars has not been a problem.
(4) Dishwasher Jobs
We also rotate jobs monthly: glass, cups and bowls, plates, and silverware are our four categories. These are written on a simple dry-erase board, along with the two charts listed below.
(5) Laundry Folding Jobs
Each child sorts one basket, folds his/her own clothes, and then folds one category of family laundry (small towels, large towels, and socks).
Each night before bed, we clean up our zones (living room/bathroom, family room/backyard, and kitchen).
Every family is unique, and every family changes regularly, but finding innovative ways to create peace and order is essential to deliberate parenting. Fighting may be central to the success of the media, but not fighting is central to the success in my home.
QUESTION: Do you have any specific “stop-the-fighting” ideas to share?
CHALLENGE: If fighting is happening too often at your house, read one of the books referenced above or take some time to create charts and structure to restore the peace.
Originally published on January 24, 2012.