7 Things You Can Do to Stop Your Kids From Fighting & Help Them Learn to Get Along

“Do your kids ever fight?” A mom friend asked me this question recently as we were loading up in the car and I kind of shrugged and laughed and told her, “Yeah, of course they do.” Here’s the deal: Yes, my kids are mostly well-behaved toward each other in public, and I’m really thankful for that, because they are good kids. But, also? Just because they are well behaved in public doesn’t mean that they never fight, because if I’m honest, OH MY GOD, YES, they fight. A LOT. Especially my girls. Sometimes they fight so much that I start to question my parenting skills. How can I make them get along??

The truth is, I can’t. My girls are two very different people. One is quiet and reserved, neat and organized; the other dramatic and messy and definitely not afraid to tell you how she feels. Loudly. And both are so stubborn (what can I say, they come by it honestly). To complicate things, they share a not-very-large bedroom in our not-very-large house, where even the smallest of us can be hard-put to find personal space.

Some day, probably years from now, I hope they’ll be good friends, but as they head into their tween and teen years, I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better. So in the meantime, here is what we do to help them work it out without fighting.

Acknowledge their differences: let them know that it’s okay that they don’t like the same things, or feel the same way about things. After all, the world would be a very boring place if we were all the exact same person.

Give them their own space: this can be really hard in our house because we have so many people in such a small space. But it can be done. For example, since Sophia is older, typically has more work/needs less assistance, and needs quiet to work, she gets first dibs on the desk in their room during homework time. It takes some thought and creativity, but we do our best to give them spaces where they can have alone time if necessary.

Address their arguing calmly (model the behavior you want to see): sometimes, I really just want to scream at them to STOP.THE.FREAKING.ARGUING.ALREADY!, but that is a) totally not productive and b) a really poor example of how to deal with anger and frustration. That’s not to say that I never get angry, frustrated & fed up, nor should it imply that I never yell at them- because I do. But I try very hard to stay calm and keep my frustration in check.

Don’t try to solve their problems for them: If I am always providing the solution for them, they will never work out how to solve their differences. I try to leave it up to them to work out a solution to whatever issue is bothering the two of them. If they can’t get to it on their own, I will offer a few different solutions to choose from, and leave it to them to work it out. They also know that they can ask for help (hopefully calmly, rather than screaming, yelling, or tattling) if they cannot reach a solution.

Set expectations for behavior: the thing is, it’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to dislike someone’s actions. It’s okay to have feelings. But this is important : what is NOT okay is to treat anyone with disrespect just because you don’t like something they said or did. We spend a lot of time in our house talking about appropriate reactions to other people’s behavior and how to ask adults for help in handling problems when you truly need it. My kids know that they are EXPECTED to be respectful of other people’s bodies, feelings, and space, even when they disagree with them. What this looks like for us : we don’t put our hands on other people’s bodies, regrdless of their words (it is important to note here that my kids are also allowed to defend themselves if they find themselves in a situation in which words are not working or they are threatened with bodily harm- but that’s a whole different discussion). We tell people how we feel instead of lashing out at them. Do my kids follow this perfectly all the time? No, of course not. They’re kids, they make mistakes. We ALL make mistakes, which leads me to the final, and posibly most important, point-

Enforce consequences: if there are no consequences for their negative behavior, there is not incentive for them to change it. When my kids behave in a way that is inappropriate, there are consequences for their actions. I try to make sure that consequences happen in a timely manner (not hours or days after an issue arises), are age- appropriate (Theo may have a time out while the others may get grounded or lose other privileges, etc.), are proportionate and relative to their actions (for example, if someone says something nasty to someone else, they might then have to do 3 nice things for them), and are meaningful (they have a definite impact on my kids). In our house we have a reward system that allows my kids to collect and save up marbles in a jar that add up to an opportunity to choose a special outing with mom or dad. When they do certain positive behaviors, they get marbles to add to their jars. If they do certain negative behaviors (like fighting with each other), they have an immediate consequence- currently, they have to hand over a book out of their personal collection if they treat each other with disrespect- and it is working pretty well.

Drink wine : I’m joking! But really, know that arguing and fighting are, to a certain extent, part of a healthy relationship. Obviously knock-down, drag-out physical fights are not okay, but nobody is perfect, and nobody gets along with everyone all the time.

What I Should Have Said Instead: Advice For (New) Mamas

When I was in high school, I found a great group of friends. While I wasn’t “popular”, there were 7 or 8 of us who spent most of our teenager-y lives together: eating lunch, going to dances and football games and movies together, hanging out on the weekends, sleeping over at each other’s houses and just generally having each other’s backs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I can see how lucky I was to have found my group.

And then, at the end of my junior year, I had a baby. My friends were still amazing and supportive and accepting of me, and we still hung out together often, but in many ways my life was miles apart from theirs, and when we graduated, we drifted apart. We were all going off to college, but I was sticking close to home and living with my mom so that I could raise a baby and go to school at the same time.

For the next 8 years, my close friends were limited. My sister has always been there for me, and of course I dated, and there were people at school and at work that I hung out with while we were there. BUT, they weren’t the types of close friendships I had in high school. Not because I didn’t want friends, but because I was always… separate from other people my age. Because my life was so different from other people my age- school, baby, work instead of school, partying, dating, work- I never really felt like I fit anywhere. By the time I graduated college 4 years later, I had met my husband, gotten married, had a 4 year-old, and was pregnant with my oldest daughter. Hunter started school, and I still didn’t fit- I was much younger than most of the other moms in his class, and I always felt awkward around them. 

But then-

When Sophia was 3, she started preschool. And once again, I found myself in the middle of this amazing group of women. I don’t know if we were friends because our kids were, or if our friends were kids because we were, but there we were. We spent our days together- having playdates with our kids, working out, going on outings, chatting, laughing, parenting our own children and each other’s and supporting each other through… everything.

Eight years later, we’re still friends. Our lives have changed. Some of us have moved away. We don’t see each other as often. But we still love each other, and every time we get together, we fall right back into each other’s lives exactly where we left off. And, although I've made some really great friends in this new season of my life, I cannot say that I have found a stronger connection than the one I had with these women.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering what my entire life’s story has to do with this blog post. If so, thanks for hanging in there with me, because I promise, I’m getting there!

Not long ago I was at a baby shower for a friend who is having her first baby, and one of the things the hostess asked the guests to do was write down some advice for the new parents. I'm always really bad at this, because even though there are always lots of things I want to say, I can never think of them in the moment. It's like my mind just goes blank, and I cannot think of a single useful thing that I have learned over the last 16 years of parenting. Which is crazy. Because here I am writing a blog all about my life with kids. Anyway. I can't remember exactly what I put on that card, except that I know I said something about making time to shower. Not bad advice, because you guys, showers are LIFE, especially when you're a new mama, or you have more than one kid, or any kids, really.

But, this weekend, as we closed down the pool on the final day of summer with those same friends we've been hanging with since preschool, I was reminded of possibly the MOST important piece of advice. And if I could write that card over again, I would write this (Shannon, I hope you're reading this, because it's my do-over!):

Look for your group. Your tribe. Your mama friends. I know you have some good ones in other states, but also, find them nearby. Motherhood, it can be lonely. Even with a boyfriend, a husband, a partner, a family there to help you. Because, honestly, no one is going to understand you better than other moms. No one- sorry, dads!- is going to be able to hear you quite like the other women who are walking similar paths through life. It can be hard, oh so hard, to find them. Making mom friends is crazy difficult sometimes, way harder than making friends when you're a kid. But be open. Don't be afraid to start a conversation with another mom you don't know in the middle of a park, a store, the preschool drop-off line. Because when you find them, you'll know, and it will be so WORTH IT. Also, one last thing- 55 Goldfish is roughly equal to 1/2 cup. Trust me, there will come a day when you will need to know this information.


Raising Emma: Learning How to Parent a Tiny Version of Myself

Recently I read a post on Instagram that someone had made talking about how the older her daughter gets, the more she can see how her personality is influencing her daughter's. So much of the time, I feel the same way about both of my girls. As different as they are from each other, they are both just like me in their own ways. Sometimes, it can feel like God took all the most difficult parts of my personality, multiplied them by 1,000, and gave them to my daughters. Sophia inherited my anxiety and my perfectionism; Emma got my tendency to say EXACTLY how I feel and what I think, and they BOTH got my stubbornness (and while I'd like to say that their dad is partially to blame for this one, I know, in my heart, that's not really the case).

Parenting is all about picking your battles and finding a way to guide your children to making positive choices while letting them be themselves. But man, some days, these personality traits can make parenting so hard because I'm fighting against these little versions of myself. It's particularly true with Emma. Maybe it's because she most definitely has a mind of her own and isn't afraid to say what she thinks (like me). Or maybe it's because once she has her mind set on something, it's nearly impossible to compromise (also, like me).


Regardless, I sometimes find myself having to work extra hard to have patience with her and being too quick to scold her. And then I always feel really bad. Because she is the sweetest girl. Of course she has her not-so-wonderful moments, but most days, she is full of ideas and nice words and compliments. She tells me EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. that I am the best mommy ever. She is a wonderful sharer, even when other people won't readily share with her. She loves to help out at home- to help make dinner, or do special jobs for me or help her younger brother. She is silly and loves practical jokes. She will tell you EXACTLY how she feels, but wants to make sure that it doesn't hurt your feelings if she disagrees with you. Really, she just wants to be needed, and I can understand that. She is one of two middle children- both girls- and as a middle child myself, I remember feeling the same way. I thinkk we all just want to be noticed.

The other night, Emma's class had a big play at school. They've spent the last three-ish months "flying" around the world and learning lots about different continents, countries & cultures. And the culmination of that lesson was the annual "Around the World" show. Each of the kids was assigned a country, and they dressed in traditional clothes and taught the audience the things they learned about their country. They were each asked to bring some sort of food to represent their country, and afterward there was a little party. 

It was during this party that the school music teacher sought me out to talk about Emma. She told me, "I really think Emma will be President one day. She is just so SHARP. If she were the President, I would know I was in good hands". She told me about a comment she made- one that could be considered rude- but she didn't think it was. Instead, she was impressed with the quickness and wit of her answer.

Emma as a little girl from Kenya. She chose Africa because her uncle is from Liberia.

Emma as a little girl from Kenya. She chose Africa because her uncle is from Liberia.

So here's the thing. I always tell myself that if my kids behave well when they are out with other people, then we're doing a pretty good job. Home is the place where they should feel most comfortable and most able to be themselves. Where they should be able to express their opinions without worrying that they will risk losing someone's love or affection. And because of that, home is the place where they can fall apart, and scream and cry when they need to. This doesn't mean that it is ok to be disrespectful or hurtful. It simply means that they have a safe place to be themselves, and know that they will be loved no matter what. And hearing this teacher's perception of Emma was just a little reminder that we're doing ok.

And so, I'm trying harder. To be patient. To remind myself that she is only seven. That she wants to stand out in this large family of ours and that she might feel like she has to work hard to shine from the middle. To let her know that she is special and she is loved and I wouldn't change anything about her. Because what I know about Emma is this: these frustrating parts of her- they are GOOD things. As she grows and changes and navigates this world, these things will serve her well. Some day, she will develop a filter and learn to choose her words wisely and realize that compromise is a good thing (I think, for the most part, I did). But, until then, I will do my best to guide her to right choices while letting her be herself.


Let's Play a Game!

Yesterday I said to the kids, "Let's play a game." "Yay! Let's Play Monopoly!"- this from my four-year-old. He's been really interested in Monopoly Junior lately. I love to play games with my kids, you guys, but oh, man, this one is not my favorite to play with littles. First of all, it takes forever- almost like regular Monopoly, so one game can seem to drag on for hours. It's like going down the rabbit hole! For another thing, even though he's getting pretty good at it, it's really NOT geared toward kids his age. Which can make it hard (and even harder if we're playing with more than one kiddo, like when we play with his five-year-old cousin), because it sometimes requires skills that he hasn't quite developed yet. So, why do I keep playing this game with him?

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