“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.