Teaching Our Kids To Get Along

We have three girls in our family. They have sweet, angelic smiles. They are silly, entertaining, creative, imaginative, quick-witted and full of love for anyone. They have traveled across the globe with us a few times to places like India and played with kids from the untouchable caste. They’ve held crying orphans, given candy to children who have never tasted it and taught Indian kids their own age English phrases. On top of all that, their dad is a pastor. You’d think that all of these ingredients would whip up a batch of fabulous children: shiny, happy, with halos to polish wherever they go. The truth is that all of us have broken halos. No matter how awesome our upbringing. We are human, and sometimes we fight.

Sometimes our girls fight – a lot. They are a constant source of companionship to one another, but on any given day, it’s two against one, one against two or one against one against one. On the more interesting days, it’s three against one (one being either me or their dad).

Usually the source of tension lies in the general unfairness of life – the woes of our inability as parents to divide the last cookie in to three perfectly equal parts. The trials of not having three individual computers for them to play on – but two, one that runs very, very slowly, and the other with sticky keys from an orange juice spill on the keyboard. And then there’s the sadness of two siblings getting to play with friends while the third’s play date gets cancelled. Generally, life is not fair, and Mom and Dad can’t always fix that.

It’s Not Fair. It’s Family.

As parents of more than one child, one of the most difficult things we find is that it is never fair. There is no possible way for one or two parents or grandparents or caregivers to predict the outcome of every given situation to ensure the results are perfectly fair. The cookie will crumble, the computer will shut down and the play date will get cancelled. Disappointment is a part of life, and so is unfairness.

Our family friend and child psychologist Dr. Ron Craker said to us once, “You’ve got to teach them thatit’s not fair. It’s family.” It took me awhile to get my head around that, and I’m not quite sure our kids get it yet, but it’s become sort of a mantra for Rob and me. When something goes terribly wrong in their little world and one kid gets what another doesn’t, they will inevitably say, “It’s not fair!” Our response, which no doubt irritates them, is, “It’s not fair. It’s family.” What we are trying to teach them through this is that life really isn’t fair. We sometimes cannot control what is fair and what isn’t, but we can choose to respond to unfairness with a good attitude. Disappointments are a part of life, and it’s our job as parents to deal with those in a healthy way from an early age. Aren’t their siblings lucky that they get to practice those skills on each other?

We don’t wag the phrase “It’s not fair. It’s family” in front of their face with a side of bad attitude. We really try to be gentle, loving and full of sympathy and understanding. It really is tragic when one child gets 150 free tickets at the Chuck E Cheese lotto machine and the other gets three. We embrace them with sympathy, see if the one with the 150 tickets has it in their heart to share a few with the less fortunate and then move on. We learn to compensate for what is unfair with love and respect for one another in those situations.

When It Gets Ugly.

There are times, of course, when words of correction and an occasional time out are not enough.

A few months ago, our kids were at each other’s throats constantly. I am not sure what triggered the irritation, whether it was the shortness of the days, long school hours, piles of homework, or a full moon – who knows? But, it was bad. There was poking, irritation and some harsh words thrown around. In times like this, when the usual means of discipline and order are not working, we have learned that it is time to think outside of the box.

We devised a method of scoring points for good behavior, losing points for bad behavior. At the end of the week, if they met their point quota, they got to cash it in for a reward.

Good behavior meant any sort of positive remark toward their sibling throughout the day. Of course it got a little silly. They went out of their way to compliment each other on their choice of colored socks, how well one of them put away the dishes, or the awesomeness of how their sister wiped the chocolate cake from the corner of her mouth. The silliness led to giggles, which was the whole point of the exercise, but we didn’t tell them that.

Negative points would be scored whenever a child would show negative behavior toward another. Any put downs would result in five points taken off. We really wanted this to be a positive experience for everyone, so we allowed them to make up their lost points by positive behavior. They could make up points by doing extra chores, being extra polite – any form of positive behavior really.

Peace At Last

At the end of the first week, we were astounded at how well the whole experiment went. The girls all met their goals, were rewarded accordingly and were very, very happy.

We kept our scorecards for about a month, and quietly let it drift off because our goal as parents was accomplished. There was a “shift” in the atmosphere of our house, and all the negativity settled down.

Our family is far from perfect, but that is why we are never “done” as parents. We are constantly having to try new methods and shift things around as our kids grow and change. For us, for now, we are relieved that peace is restored at our house and are breathing in the new sweetness of the fresh air of spring as well as the freshness of great attitudes and harmony around our home.

Parent to Parent:

What Works For You?

Negotiation. And a firm hand. I just plain don’t allow them to fight. They need to be each other’s best allies, not bullies. ~Shelly Wildman, Wheaton, IL.

Those are great moments to teach them how to deal with people in their lives with whom they will want to punch in the face. Learning to settle differences by talking it out and if that doesn’t work, taking a break to cool down. Then to put it all in the grand perspective. ~Renee Crabtree, South Bend

When things get heated between my four, we all get together, and they each have to give the others three put-ups. It always starts off rough, but by the end, they have pulled it off, and are feeling better. ~Julie Schneider,

When our kids were younger and had conflicts, we would sit them down on the couch together and tell them to figure out a solution they could both agree on and then call either Dave or me back in to hear the plan and make sure they both agreed. After the discussion they had to hug. Some times on the couch took longer than others. At 20,18,13, they all seem to like each other today. ~Sue Ferguson, Chicago, IL.

A few words…EXHAUSTION (run them until they’re too tired to fight) OR REDIRECTION (Make yourself their “enemy” ). ~Anthony Hunt, Elkhart, In.

 

This article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Family Magazine of Michiana

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