Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anger + Action = Awful

Somewhere between one and one hundred times a day, I find myself caught in the crossfire of two warring children and I scramble minimize the damages caused by spiteful words and fighting.  They call it "sibling rivalry" and although these altercations take place between flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, with the same family name, it can get pretty nasty at times.  I wonder why it is that the people closest to us are often the people we are most jealous and vengeful toward!?  Yet, we can go all the way back to the beginning of Genesis, and observe how the first family created dealt with this issue as well, to the point of murder!  Poor Adam and Eve...  they didn't have any parenting manuals and role models to assist them in their monumental journey as the father and mother of mankind.

(Taken from The Action Bible published by David C Cook)

Growing up, there wasn't a ton of sibling rivalry in my household.  I was the second of two kids, having a brother who was 22 months older than me.  He often hung out with my dad and did "man stuff" in the garage, and I often followed my mom around, puttering around in the garden, going for walks, and learning to cook.  Whenever we fought, it was usually fairly brief, and we were admonished by my parents to "cut it out".

You can well imagine that as I thought about the complexities of having a large family, I was somewhat at a loss on how to manage sibling conflict.  When I asked my husband, who grew up in a larger family of a girl, then him (the firstborn son and top of the dog pile), and two other boys, he told me that his parents most often just left the boys to "work it out" on their own, unless there seemed to be an inordinate amount of bloodcurdling screams during their scraps.

So, over the years, I've had to turn to other sources for instruction and advisement on how to handle my growing brood.  One wise mother told me that she did not permit any fighting or mean behavior (including name-calling and harsh words) among her three children, and would promptly punish them the moment she heard them doing so.  Apparently it worked, and these three children, now grown-up with families of their own, are some of the most gracious people I've ever met.  (For reference's sake, there was one girl and two boys in the family.)  I have latched onto this ideal, yet upholding it in a family with many small, rambunctious, loud children is another issue altogether.

I wanted to share some of the methods I have been implementing in our family dynamic, which have helped me to promote harmony among my kids.  One of the first and most important rules is that name-calling, yelling, and harsh words are against the family code of kindness towards one another.  Whenever a child yells at someone rudely or speaks harshly or steps in and "tries to be the mom" (or dad) to another child, telling them what to do, we address this type of speech immediately.  That child is reprimanded to apologize for their words, and if necessary sent away for a few moments alone to think about their actions, and then can return to the situation and make amends.

When I catch my children fighting, however, it is a different story.  First of all, I am constantly pressing upon my children the fact that we are family, and we will ALWAYS be friends, no matter what.  They are told that it is not an option to be best friends with their siblings.  So when I find that two or three kids are involved in a fight over a toy, or "you hit me", or "you touched my thing" type of argument, I am quick to intervene.

A while back, I heard an author speak on Focus On The Family about siblings fighting, and he offered this advice.  Send them to a time out, together.  Preferably in a room that is uninteresting (without toys and such) like a bathroom.  There they must bide their time out together (and the timer doesn't begin until they have stopped yelling at each other) and they can only come out of the bathroom once they have worked things out, forgiven one another and both parties are content with the solution to the problem.

So, in my exuberance, I decided to try this method out the very next day after hearing this broadcast.  It happened to be my oldest two who were fighting about something - probably something small, such as "you stole my pencil", but they were full-blown yelling and arguing with each other.  I sent them to the bathroom and explained that they would remain in there until they had been quiet for a time out, and had worked out their problem and figured out how they would avoid this conflict in the future.  For the next 15 minutes I heard accusing, whining voices blaming one another for this horrible atrocity that had them stuck in such an awful predicament!  I came in and sternly warned them that they had better settle down, deal with the issue, and change their attitudes if they wanted to be free to leave the bathroom any time soon.

Shortly after, I heard some more yelling and then a crash, followed by sobbing.  Uh Oh... what happened now?  I stormed into the bathroom to find two very sober faced children with tears in their eyes, quickly pointing to one another with the intention of saying "It's their fault!".  Somehow, in their inability to work out their fight about the pencil, a shoving match had ensued, causing one child to push the other against the bathroom cabinet.  The cabinet was less than a year old, and had a glass window in the doorway, and it was now cracked with a spider-web like design...  My stomach sank and I felt the disappointment in every inch of my body.

"This is a teachable moment, this is a teachable moment" I murmured to myself as the children looked up at me with saucer eyes, comprehending the depth of trouble they had got themselves into.  I was angry.  I was also very disappointed.  I asked them if they could see how one small thing (their previous fight) and not controlling their tempers could lead to a large problem.  They tearfully acknowledged with woeful nods of their heads.  I told them that they were in trouble, and there would be consequences.  Then, I shut the door again for them to finish their time out and to work out their differences.  (I also needed a moment to go to my room for a time out and to do one of those 'silent screams' that moms do when they feel like they are about to lose it!)

Ultimately, the first "hard core" together time-out was destructive, but not a failure.  I have modified this mode of discipline to include group time-outs on the couch together (the loveseat, so they can't sit on opposite ends, and have to stay close to each other).  Sometimes, I will even instruct my kids to hold hands in their time out if they were fighting... and you can guess how much they enjoy that!! (Hee hee!)  Ultimately, I'm not trying to be mean or inflict cruel and unusual punishment upon my kids.  When all is said and done, I am trying to develop healthy conflict handling abilities within my children.  Everyone needs to learn how to "use their words"  and face the fact that their actions can hurt the feelings of others.  If I merely sent my kids to their own rooms, or opposite ends of the house for their time-outs, they would not be faced with the consequences and effect that their words and actions have on their sister/brother.  When I force them to be face to face with the relationship they are struggling with, I am telling them that they must learn repentance, forgiveness and graciousness.

There have been moments where the kids think "Fine.  I'll just say sorry and be done with it." and I've had to call them on that.  I would ask them if they have really chosen to forgive, and if they are now choosing kindness toward this other person.  We've talked about how it isn't always easy, but going back to the fact that we are family and we will always be best friends, sometimes you have to learn to CHOOSE to let go of these petty issues. Above all, I direct my kids' thoughts towards the forgiveness of Christ.  We all have been forgiven so much, and don't deserve the gift of grace we've been given.  Freely we have received, so freely we should give. (Matt. 10:8)

I don't have this whole issue figured out yet, but I can say that it is very much worth the effort.  In a household of 6 kids, I don't know what I would do if they were continually scrapping and yelling and clobbering each other.  I am constantly reaching toward a higher standard where the kids show a deeper love and concern for one another and are more helpful and kind.  I imagine much of this will be developed by my own example and modeling kindness towards them, which is something I know I have to work on myself!  Unfortunately it is human nature to be self-centered and selfish.  It is an unending process to work to curb this behavior in ourselves, and in our kids!

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!
(Psalm 133:1, The Message)

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