“He hit me!!!” “She took my marker!”
Have you ever thought – “I am just refereeing 24/7, and I certainly have better things to do with my day. This is just not okay! The fighting needs to stop.”
Unfortunately, the more we have an expectation that our children should not fight, the harder it is to deal wisely with the challenge of conflict.
The reality is that kids fight all the time! University of Illinois professor and family researcher Laurie Kramer, PhD, has found that siblings between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict an average of 3.5 times an hour. The youngest kids (those in the 2-to-4 age group) are the most conflict prone at 6.3 conflicts per hour–or more than one clash every 10 minutes.*
Our kids aren’t going to stop fighting. In fact, we can expect that they will have many conflicts. What if we stopped viewing conflict as an unnecessary and irritating interruption, and started seeing it (and conflict resolution training) as an integral part of family life?
Sibling conflict can be discouraging as parents wonder, “Will these kids ever learn to get along? Will they ever be close?” Jim and I wondered that. Our online course, Sibling Conflict: From Bickering to Bonding, is packed with the insights and practical tools we learned. We guided our kids from hurtful, even aggressive conflicts, to the joy, connection and heartfelt reconciliation that has equipped them to thrive in all their important relationships.
Carrie, a single mom of triplets shared her story of implementing what she has learned in the course:
I watched the segment in your sibling online course about how to guide kids to repair broken relationships. I thought about the valuable opportunity to empower kids for true reconciliation. After bathtime, conflict inevitably erupted among my 5-year-old triplets over who was going to dry off with which towel.
Before the course, I would have quickly decreed who got which towel and commanded an apology: “Sorry.” “I forgive you.” No one would have meant it, of course, and by the time we had all said our well-rehearsed scripts, we would be scowling at each other.
“Are we there yet?” “I have to go to the bathroom!” “I want a Happy Meal NOW!” “No, I want Taco Bell!!”
Ahh, the bliss of car-trip vacations. Whether our children are toddlers or teens, the stress of riding in the car together for extended periods can taint the whole vacation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could time-warp ourselves to our destinations? It’s appealing, but obviously not reality. The real-life temptation is simply to equip each child with a glowing device full of their favorite movies or games, and communicate the message… when it’s hard to get along, we just turn to screens to solve the problem. So let’s look at it differently, because a helpful insight for car rides or any other difficult parenting situation is: Every challenge holds a golden opportunity!
The challenge of car rides together is a great opportunity for connection, teamwork, and creative problem-solving.
Here are some practical, simple ideas:
Parents want to be able to help their kids calm down when conflict happens. So it can be quite discouraging when conflicts spiral out of control. If screaming matches are normal at your house, or even if they are infrequent but still troublesome, here are three developmental stages to consider. Whether you have a toddler or a teen, we’ll offer practical tips to help you teach your kids to calm down so they can solve problems well.
“Here we go again,” you think as your child gets more and more beet red in the face and your voices escalate. Realizing your face color is matching his, shade for glowing shade, you command, “Go to your room!” with as much dominant “authority” as possible! But even if your child complies, you know he hates feeling controlled and grows ever more resentful. You feel stuck, and wonder how this dynamic will look in 5 or 10 years…
To get unstuck from this pattern, it helps to understand how you might feel if you were angrily sent to your room: Ashamed, intimidated, powerless and defeated? Misunderstood and seething under the surface?
“I want it! Can I have it? I want it NOW!”
Regardless of how articulate your teen or toddler may be, most parents are familiar with variations of this demand. When we hear this from our kids we’re inclined to quickly pronounce, “No!” and the fight or flight game is on. The two options we’ve given our kids are to 1) give in or 2) dig in and fight. When our kids give in, it’s not because they understand our logic or reasoning, it’s because they know they can’t win the fight. More often, however, they dig in and the power struggle intensifies.
The truth is, whether kids give in or not, simply pronouncing “No!” misses a great opportunity to help a child learn responsibility and wisdom, and our quick, firm refusal may also provoke an even stronger compulsion to get stuff as a way of feeling significant.
So consider this approach instead:
From sports, to music, to theater and more….our kids have an endless supply of excellent extra-curricular activities at their fingertips. More than at any time in history! With this abundance, kids easily become a little (or a lot) self-focused and inclined to develop the dreaded “Entitlement” mentality unless we have been thoughtful and diligent to combat it.
Warding off the entitlement bug requires being very intentional about participation in extracurriculars, and how to guide your kids to feel more grateful and less entitled.
The first issue to address is about the “why?” – why do we participate in these activities? The answer to this question is the basis for cultivating either a sense of entitlement or a sense of gratitude and grand purpose. The answers might range anywhere from, “So I can develop good skills for life.” Or, “So I can fit in with other kids.” Or, “So I can get a college scholarship.” Each of these “why’s?” is common, but you’ll notice that each is self-focused.
Many discouraged parents have asked us this question: How should we respond to our child who doubts the reality of God?
When children suggest “there is no God” it’s natural for parents to immediately try to convince them otherwise. It’s a good intention, but one that often deepens the chasm between kids’ doubts and their movement toward God. If this is your reality, understand that there is probably little you can say, (because they’ve probably heard all the arguments before) but much that you can DO to make it safe for your kids to struggle back toward Jesus when they have doubts.
Making Easter real to your kids can happen when you’re NOT at your scrubbed and shiny Sunday best!
“Stop arguing and get moving – NOW!”
“NO!!!!” my strong-will son responded with steely determination.
I had frequent conflicts with Daniel, our oldest child. I often ended up feeling discouraged and ashamed after our conflicts, even if we apologized to each other.