How Fights are Reinforced…or Resolved
If kids get a stern scolding, angry tones, harsh consequences, and nothing else from parents when they physically fight, then fighting is reinforced. This is because the combative mood is continued and modeled by the parents. In the kids’ minds, scolding is nothing more than a grown up form of intimidation and power. Children learn by the adult’s example that to win at fights is to win at life.
However, if fighting children are constructively managed, they will learn to work through conflict better. They’ll learn that resolving conflict well is a win for both parties. So here are some quick ideas for constructive conflict intervention when kids fight.
Sometimes our kids don’t take things seriously because they just don’t understand the weight of their own actions. When that happens, we as parents need to think outside the box to help them understand the consequences now so that they won’t have to reap harsher consequences later.
When I (Jim) heard that my six-year-old son had aggressively shoved another student into the wall at school, I decided we needed to have a little talk. He remained casual about it and didn’t think it was a big deal. I didn’t think his attitude was helpful, or that he was really taking seriously the problem of getting physically aggressive with other students. So I said, “Do you know that using your body to threaten or harm other people is against the law?”
“Yeah, right!” he flippantly replied.
“It looks like we’re going to need some help for you to understand what a big deal this is. I’m going to call the police and let them know what you’ve done.” I was looking for some repentance or remorse. Instead he replied, “Yeah, whatever!”
That was my cue.
Michael Phelps is now the most decorated Olympian in history. Winning 19 Olympic medals has made him — according to many — “the greatest Olympian ever”.
So what is Phelps’ secret?
Well, it could be his high-altitude sleeping chamber. But we think it has a lot to do with Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, and a somewhat strange coaching philosophy.
The worst punishment a parent can give is the impulsive, emotional and irrational consequence that the child eventually weasels out of because both parent and child know it’s unreasonable.
Dishing out a quick consequence may help you feel big and powerful at the moment, but it teaches your kids that your word can’t be trusted, therefore you can’t be trusted. A recent coaching client testified to this when she said, “I never thought about the impact of my empty threats on the trust level in my relationship with my child.”
So if you want your kids to trust you, it will help to be more thoughtful about consequences.
Try this process:
As parents who care for our children’s spiritual well-being, we try to teach them right and wrong and help them tackle whatever spiritual problems they encounter.
However, other than the fact that they’re born into sin, it may well be that a child’s biggest spiritual problem is that the grace they hear about in the gospel story is not what they experience in their closest relationships. The same parents who send them to Sunday School fight in the car on the way home from church and don’t resolve well. Or they yell at their kids impatiently. Or they complain openly about other people. Or they insist on being right. Or they discipline angrily and without grace. The list goes on.
We may think our kids won’t notice these behavioral contradictions, but increasingly they do notice and feel embittered (Col. 3:21) or exasperated (Eph. 6:4).
Are you unknowingly too child-centered?
Not too long ago we wrote about the problem of entitlement among children — about how many well-meaning parents, without thinking about it much, have become too child-centered. The article struck a nerve. Some felt offended or were defensive, while most strongly agreed but asked for more ideas about how to keep their kids from feeling entitled.
Meaningful mealtime connection:
In the first post in this series we talked about how family meals are an effective “vaccine” for your kids against all sorts of harmful choices. Research also shows that although family meals get harder to schedule as your kids become teens, they become even more important to their well-being!
So once you figure out a schedule for meals together and get the kiddos corralled at the table, how can you maximize the value of those times together? How can you pass the values and faith while you pass the veggies and fruit? These are important questions. Technology has brought media and your kids’ peers virtually into your home and your kids’ pockets nearly 24-7. If you aren’t thoughtful about how to be the strongest, clearest “voice” in this barrage of influences, someone else will raise your kids. And they probably won’t share your values.
Family meals together provide the perfect opportunity to share experiences and discuss values with your children. Here are three practical tips for meaningful mealtime connection:
Dr. Bill Doherty, Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program, U of MN, has identified a key factor for kids’ well being:
“Research shows that the most important thing a child can do to assure long-term well being is eat meals with his or her family. The more meals together, the better!”
Based on this research, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report makes this bold statement:
“A revival of the family dinner in America will do more to curb kids from smoking, drinking and using drugs than any law or public health campaign.”
These conclusions speak to what the forefathers of our faith already knew: It is around the table that our most important values are passed from generation to generation. The Passover feast was for centuries a seven day celebration that culminated in the Seder, or grand remembrance of the Passover. Then, during the last week of his life, Jesus established the Passover meal as the time and place he would be remembered. During this famous “Last Supper” he said, “Do this often, in remembrance of me!”
So how, in today’s age of numerous activities and busy lifestyles that we want to maintain, can we honor this age-old principle for passing faith and values over a meal? How can we “do this often?”
We recently got the following email from a loving, caring parent. We believe others among you might have similar questions, so we thought we’d share! Hope this conversation answers questions you might have and sparks a few new ones:
Dear Jim and Lynne,
Thank you so much for your recent article on discipline. I hear advice like, “You should disciple your children, not discipline.” or “Don’t get angry with your children.” But I am always asking myself, “Well, what does that sound like? What do I say in certain situations? When I say this am I disciplining or discipling?”
I love your real life situation example. One that could take place in my home. Now, what about when I tell my daughter to go brush her teeth to get ready for bed and 15 minutes later she still has not brushed her teeth. I’m just not one to say, “Now honey, I know you don’t want to brush your teeth, but we really need to. Can you please go brush your teeth?” My goal is obedience the first time, right away. Delayed obedience equals disobedience. So there should be consequences, right? What should those consequences be?
Thank you for the help you give to us parents trying our best to raise godly children.
Researchers have told us that American parents are too child-centered. Is making our kids happy eclipsing our determination to teach them responsibility? According to the cited study, “Parents intend to develop their children’s independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own.” (Wall Street Journal, 3/13/2012). As a result, kids generally are growing up less prepared to take care of themselves and others than ever before. We call this problem “entitlement,” meaning kids who do not feel inclined to be responsible and helpful as part of daily life. Lynne and I have encountered this issue time and again in our own work coaching families.
Not so long ago it was different. For all of human history, until the last 60 years or so, kids were expected at young ages to do what they could do to help their family survive. In other words, their contributions were necessary to keep others afloat. Faith and values were passed naturally through this process as children and parents shared in the responsibilities of day to day life. Every child was an asset because every child was another worker in the labor force of the family/clan. Kids felt significant not just because parents said ‘I love you’ at bedtime or sent notes in their lunchbox, but because they knew that if they didn’t do their part others would suffer.
This concept of being needed is absent in most American homes. Instead of growing up to believe they are here for others, kids grow up to believe that others are here for them. Add to the mix a child’s selfish, sinful nature, and we’ve got a real problem on our hands.