A peaceful home is a co-requisite to productive homeschooling.
Even if you never homeschool your children, you probably still need some good sibling rivalry solutions. I’ve spent many years training our five kids to get along, yet when the mother of preschool triplets asked me how to avoid a huge blow-up whenever one of her children doesn’t get what another child gets, I didn’t know how to answer her right away. But after a little thought, I wrote her the following letter.
I have been thinking about your very legitimate concerns in child-rearing. Perhaps I can better address your question again here.
The most urgent problem in your children right now seems to be their selfish human nature showing in their behavior. We don’t have to teach our kids to be self-centered, do we? They’re born with our sinful nature, and we, as parents are commissioned by God to train it our of them.
If I remember correctly, your situation is like this: when one child has something, the others believe they have the right to have that thing too, or one exactly like it. It’s as if no one wants to be denied the best or the most. He or she never wants to accept less than another.
Here is how I think I would approach this problem. My purposeful parenting strategy would be to regularly orchestrate opportunities to “cross my child’s will”. In other words, I would train my child to understand and accept that he ought NOT expect to get the same thing someone else does; he ought NOT to expect to always have his wishes met. I want him to practice every day the skill of watching someone else get something rather than him and to still be grateful.
Go through the fast food drive-through and get 2 items for each person except for one child; she only gets one. Warn her ahead of time that you are going to do this and that you expect her to say thank you for her one item. And if (rather, when) she doesn’t accept her situation gracefully, her one item is taken away immediately, with NO SECOND WARNING! You and I both know it will be a big, noisy scene, but stand your ground without getting irritated or loud. The other kids will understand and be more prone to comply when they get their turns. Choose your timing wisely though; don’t do this right before an important meeting or activity. Do it when you’re on your way home and can stay in control of the situation.
Or like this:
Serve 2 treats for dessert for each family member, but one child only gets one. Warn everyone ahead of time. Don’t let anyone know beforehand which child will be denied getting as much as the others, but cheerfully remind them that Mom must hear a pleasant thank you and no complaining or else that one dessert will be immediately taken away, with NO SECOND WARNING! Believe me, they’ll catch on quickly!
Take along another grown-up for this training session.
Take the kids to the playground, but require one child to stay outside the play area just to watch. Maybe have an adult carry the child along the perimeter as they watch and point out the fun things the others are doing on the play equipment. Don’t allow him to go off somewhere else for other fun or another activity. Again, explain before you arrive what’s going to happen; every child must graciously accept his or her situation and be thankful for what they DO have. Closely monitor the child’s tolerance for frustration; some frustration is desirable but must be held in check. Don’t make the situation last longer than needed to cause temporary discomfort. Praise any patience exhibited, then allow him to join the others.
Then, do the same thing with only one other child before going home. Remember, the two who were denied must accept that the third child was not denied.
Or maybe this:
Does one family member insist on the best seat in the car or on the couch? Then clearly and firmly deny that privilege.
I like this one:
Make a point of driving to the park just to take a walk past the playground. On some visits, they are allowed to play on the playground, but on other days, they are not. Pleasant attitudes can win a reward; grumpiness will reap unpleasant consequences.
Remember, Dana, that by denying their “wills” regularly and matter-of-factly, you’re teaching them that the world does not revolve around them, and that they need to be grateful for the things they have. It will take many years to fully teach these lessons, of course, and even we adults can have a hard time remembering sometimes. Be patient and understanding as they learn, and be a good example.
Also, never allow any child to make fun of another who doesn’t get something. Hurtful words or attitudes will only fuel the flame of selfishness. Remind your kids that “we are a family, and this family is a safe place where everyone is kind to each other. There are many people out in the world who would like to hurt your brother or sister; we are here to be a safe place for your siblings.”
Don’t do these denial exercises in any particular order, or else your children might come to believe they deserve to get denied only as often as another child does. The world is not a fair place, but it is a place where God gives us grace daily to get through our difficult times. Remind your kids, and yourself, of that.
Even as strict as I am with my children, they also receive lots of affirmation and love. They can appreciate the training/discipline they’ve received, because there is security within the limits we establish. They can respect Mom and Dad much more when we are firmly consistent in our training, in a kind and loving way. Recently, when they witnessed another child act spoiled, each of my kids later came to me and told me thank you for disciplining them so they don’t behave that way. Wow! God works in the hearts of children when they are trained in His ways.
Dana, it’s important to limit your commitments.
Take care of yourself by strictly limiting the activities and commitments outside your home. Extended home time is a great way to foster harmony between siblings, because everyone has more uninterrupted time to work on projects and activities together. They are not repeatedly being asked to leave something or to clean up something in order to go somewhere. Besides, when you return home from someplace, time must be used up in simply putting away the things you brought home. And every time you have to leave again, you have to either take time to clean up or you leave a mess behind!
Children don’t need to always be going to dance, or soccer, or church, or anywhere else. God birthed them into your arms and into your home. That’s where they should receive everything they need for many years. It might seem like too great a sacrifice for Mom to spend so much time at home, but it is a job well worth the effort. This is a season of life when your peace-of-mind can only survive if you know that you’re providing God’s precepts in your family.
Always ask your husband’s advice about any activity that will take you away from home before committing to it. He probably has a more objective view on where your time and energy should best be spent. If he has reservations about your participation, consider saying no to that activity or commitment, then be at peace with that decision. Your husband wants the best for you and the kids. Besides, he will love you more for taking his advice; exactly what a wife needs!
Be patient, firm and consistent with your children. Your family and friends will thank you. Your children will thank you. They will grow to be more submissive to you, and ultimately, to God. Continually ask Him for wisdom. Daily ask your husband for his advice (and then take it). You will be praised as a worthy woman!
My letter to Dana addressed preschool behavior management strategies, but I’ve used them with my children from toddler age right through their preteen years. Obviously, your circumstances are different from Dana’s, but you know your children well enough to come up with original sibling rivalry solutions to fit your child-rearing philosophy and situation.
Won’t you please share with me what you come up with?
Start with just a couple strategies until you and the children get good at them. Or if one of these ideas just isn’t working for you, ditch it and try another instead. Your peaceful home through purposeful parenting requires a huge amount of thought, time, and energy to implement, but it will train your children to live peaceably with each other.
Isn’t that a beautiful goal?
Perhaps you’d like to check out a free resource from Amy McCready of PositiveParentingSolutions.com regarding parenting skills, conflict resolution, and sibling rivalry. She’s a mom who’s been at the business of raising kids for a long time, too!
I hope my ideas help you take care of yourself and your family.
Pursuing a relaxing and peaceful home,