This has been a summer of much conflict in our home.
From the day we stopped homeschooling for the summer, and started our holidays, the level and frequency of conflict increased dramatically.
Judging by what I hear from other moms, we are not alone in this.
It’s understandable – there’s so much time suddenly for spending a lot of time at home with siblings, with much less structure.
But I felt like I was losing my mind, just a bit.
What annoyed me even more than the fact that I was losing my mind, was the common response to all of this:
Kids just fight. It’s normal – get used to it.
Let them figure it out on their own – it’s good for them.
Just increase your tolerance.
I listened to all of that for awhile, until one day it suddenly hit me – It goes against what I believe about parenting, and raising children who will be godly adults some day.
I believe in training children to become awesome adults. (I don’t expect that to happen all on it’s own.)
I believe in using Biblical truths when training my children. (Peace and unity are taught in the Bible. I think they’re pretty important.)
If something is wrong, and it’s hurting my heart, I believe in standing up and doing something about it. (Not turning my head and ignoring the situation until it passes.)
Yes, there is such a thing as “natural behaviour”. But as Christians, I believe we can long for the supernatural.
I know I’m not an expert on parenting. Most days, I’m at a complete loss, and don’t have a clue. If I look like I know what I’m doing, I’m probably faking it.
But here’s what I do know: Conflict is a part of life.
It would be unrealistic to expect my children to play perfectly together, every single moment of the day. HOWEVER, as their mom, I believe I can do a lot to teach them how to have healthy conflict, and solve problems in ways that will equip them for being adults.
I’ve witnessed a lot of conflict between adults. After being in full-time ministry for over 10 years, we’ve seen some things. I’m still learning, but I know of a few things we’ve learned along the way, which I am trying to teach our girls right now, that work equally well for adults or children:
1) Almost anything can be expressed, as long as it’s expressed in the right way.
This tidbit of wisdom was given to me by someone whom I really admire when it comes to self-control, living with intention, and choosing words wisely.
I’m not a fan of holding things inside. Emotional constipation has never worked well for me.
However, letting all those emotions burst forth all over another person can become extremely messy.
But when we can express our thoughts and feelings in a calm, reasonable way, we build bridges of understanding. I’m still learning to do this myself, but I believe in giving our girls a head-start. Children are capable of calmly expressing their needs to each other, but they will most likely not do this naturally, of their own accord.
My friend gave me a great tip: Teach them to use a “bug” and a “wish”.
“It bugs me when _______________. I wish you would ________________.” (Seriously don’t think this would be a bad idea for some adults, either…)
I’ve been trying to use this a lot over the last week, and it’s been working wonderfully with Anika. Kaylia, not so much. She didn’t seem to be catching on, but suddenly one morning, when Anika was hugging her a bit too tightly around the waist, Kaylia surprised us all when she burst out, “Anika, it bugs me when you choke me! I wish you’d go choke someone else!!!”
I think she gets it now. I have some work to do in other areas, though, it would seem…
2) Look for ways to “lower the temperature”, as quickly as possible.
When everybody is all fired up, nothing is going to process well. Anika will be all loud and worked up about something Kaylia’s done, but she finds it hard to hand the situation over to me. It’s worked really well to explain things to her by comparing fights to temperature.
“What temperature is it in here right now – hot or cold?”
“How can we lower the temperature so everyone calms down enough so we can discuss this?”
(This has also been an extremely uncomfortable reminder to myself to keep my own “temperature” down! You can’t yell that line to your kid, with a clear conscience…)
3) Time alone for a little break can be a good thing – not a punishment.
Everybody needs a break sometimes. When things are crazy, I separate the girls, which Anika always took as a “time-out”. I explained to her that it wasn’t a punishment – it was just a way to distance herself from the things that were upsetting her.
Time alone before things get bad can also be really helpful. Even adults get sick of each other if they overdo time spent together. It sounds ridiculous, but before we ever left on our honeymoon, Ben and I decided we would take one afternoon during our trip to spend time alone.
It was an amazing afternoon. We were staying at a bed and breakfast in Victoria, and I spent an hour doing my devotions (which had been very neglected during our honeymoon!) in the beautiful garden. Afterwards, I played piano for a long time, never knowing that Ben heard me, and sneaked down the stairs to sit and listen to me playing.
After our alone time, it was great to be together again – we had new thoughts to share, and felt refreshed and ready to continue enjoying our trip. Being alone for a bit made being together again even nicer.
Learning to enjoy being alone, as well as learning to recognize the need for it, is a skill I want our girls to learn.
4) God offers us peace in every situation.
A few weeks back, as I was wrestling with how to keep my sanity this summer, I was praying about the fighting, and asking God to show me what in the world I was supposed to do.
Instantly, a picture came to my mind of me rushing over to my fighting girls, laying a hand on each of them, and praying out loud, “Father, where is your peace in this situation?”
I would never have come up with such an idea on my own. But as I thought about it, I realized this strategy would accomplish a few things:
- It would teach my girls that prayer is always the first and best answer, in any situation.
- It recognizes the fact that there is peace in every situation. God longs for us to live in unity, and I believe He always provides a way for us to find it, if we look to Him, and pray for the wisdom to rise above what’s natural and human. He always offers a supernatural peace.
- Instead of one girl against the other, I form a bridge between all of us as we look, together, to God. Suddenly, we’re kind of on the same side as we search for the peace. We get our heads together as we try to find a strategy, a compromise to which everyone can agree.
(I don’t do this every time. I’m still learning, too. We’re all practicing.)
Maybe the best part in all of this is that I no longer feel as though I’m helpless and frustrated as I repeatedly watch my children fighting and hurting each other. Now I have a plan. I have tools. I have a clear picture in my mind of what I want to accomplish, and I know this: It will not happen if my children are left to themselves.
Sure, they may learn to work things out, but in what way? If some adults don’t even know how to work through conflict in a healthy way, how are children going to figure it out? I am of the opinion that they must be taught, and they need tools.
I can try to do that for my girls.
What are your strategies for resolving conflict, with adults or children?!
12 thoughts on “How I’m Teaching My Kids to Stop Fighting This Summer”
Wow, Kendra! I SO NEEDED THIS TODAY!!!! Thanks for your helpful, inspired suggestions. I will be writing them down and using them!
Thanks, Becky! I feel as though you are such an inspiration to me when it comes to using a soft word with kids, no matter how frustrating the situation might be. You are such a gentle person!
I agree that our children need tools and most importantly, I believe we need to model healthy conflict to our kids (they are watching us and taking very detailed sub-conscious notes about what we do to deal with our own conflict). I also think there are times where it is necessary to intervene, but also appropriate times to allow our kids to work it out on their own. It is sometimes surprising how they can put things they have seen and heard into practice when they are allowed to “work it out”. It certainly doesn’t work every time, and for sure there are times when they need my guidance to find the path through the conflict. However, I do feel that in order for our kids to really understand how to walk through conflict, they have to practice and experience what it’s like to figure it out in a way that makes sense to them. With my eyes and ears close by (I will not always be close by to guide them and so badly want them to be self-sufficient in conflict as adults). Because I am close, I’m able to instruct them when they are displaying negative or unhealthy ways of dealing with each other in conflict, but it also really cuts down on tattling when they know there is the expectation to try figuring it out on their own before running to me. I love the idea of using a “bug” and a “wish”. I’m going to try that one! I’ve been trying to teach my boys how to use words to describe how they are feeling, and this sounds like just what they need to put it into practice! (sorry for the long response…we’ve been dealing with this as well so I have a lot of thoughts…)
Thanks for adding this, Juls – you are absolutely right. Children most definitely need the opportunity to practice working things out, without a parent swooping in every time. I like what you wrote about being close by, and monitoring this carefully – also completely different from simply “letting them work things out on their own”.
What wonderful insights again, Kendra. Thank you for the strategies. I am going to use them and see what happens to our conflict-FULL summer! You give me hope for the future! 🙂 I have often been the one saying, “Let them figure it out on their own…” I still think this is a good option, but only AFTER we give them tools to actually do that! Our children certainly have many chances to observe conflicts being resolved. I used to think that was a bad thing…that the kids saw us in our temperature-raised states. But, I think we were given these easily-excitable personalities and we just need to work with what we’ve got! So, we have a great opportunity to model conflict resolution in our every-day lives. 🙂
Such a good point – as parents, we do spend a lot of time showing our kids how to do conflict. And even when we set a BAD example, it’s also an excellent thing for them to hear us apologizing!
wow Kendra great insights I am totally going to use some of your strategies. I agree with you that we are called to train our children, not ignore. Especially when it means moving towards the trouble, or approaching a firestorm. I have been praying for the holy spirits help to come with the fruits of the spirit to a situation that is escalating, because my weakness causes me to rise with the temperature instead of bringing an opposite spirit. Thank you for your wise words
Oh wow having 5 kids you hit the hammer on the nail with this one:) it’s still a learning curve with me but when my kids fight i make them say a list of things they love about the other one and give hugs
One idea I picked up along the way was to put fighting children together on the sofa. They had to hold hands until they apologized and gave each other permission to get up. If my children wanted to tattle on each other, they had to fill out a form. I created it with date, time, offense and also what the child wanted the parent to do about. Not a lot were turned in – too much effort!
Love it ;). Always something we are working on :).
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