“Stop hitting me!” “Give it! THAT’S MINE!!” “I’m telling on you!”
Smack. Kick. Shove. Screaming. Tears.
If there’s one thing that’s driven me to prayer the most as a stay at home mom, it’s dealing with my kids’ arguing/fighting. And not just dealing with them, but with myself and my own responses to this stuff.
As a stay at home mom of almost eight years, I’ve come to realize that there are few things as challenging to a mom as dealing with siblings fighting. Prior to having kids, I would always hear moms talk about how sibling fighting was the hardest part about raising kids. At that time, I couldn’t comprehend it because I was raised with siblings who are more than 10 years younger than me. In my mind, labor and delivery seemed more insurmountable than dealing with a few kids who couldn’t get along!
Now that I’m four kids into this journey, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with those moms. And to top it all off, I’ve seen firsthand how my own character flaws have made things worse as I’ve fallen into the trap of being provoked to anger over and over again.
I’ve had the opportunity to put different parenting theories to the test in this area, and I’ve also been able to make some general conclusions as to what triggers fighting, different ways to alleviate it, and what we can do as moms to change it. I hope this post encourages you! Here are five ways that you can help your kids stop fighting.
Control your response
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1).
No matter how hard we try, we can never control our kids. We can instruct them until we’re blue in the face, but we can’t enter their minds and make the changes we know they need to make. We can, however, control ourselves, and in doing so, greatly influence our children’s actions.
Now let me say something real quick: in reading other blogs, I’ve discovered that it’s easy to give myself reasons for being impatient and yelling, even when I know it’s not good. But when I look at the Word, it tells me things like put anger to death (Colossians 3:8) and that I’m to consider myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11). So while I totally understand that controlling yourself can be extremely challenging, it’s something God has given us the grace and help of the Holy Spirit to do, so we should take advantage of that!
I’m not saying we’ll be perfect in this or even get it right all the time. But what I do know, and what I’ve seen personally, is that if I yield myself to Him every morning and in every moment when I want to respond wrongly and commit myself to renewing my mind, the grace to be patient is available for me.
What’s also helped me is to continually remind myself that my kids aren’t really mine, that they belong to the Lord. Psalm 24:1 says that “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains; the world, and those who dwell in it.”
If I was handling someone else’s kids, I’d be extra careful how I responded to them. I would, in general, be a lot more patient with them than with my own kids. And we’ve all seen ourselves do this. But the truth is that my kids are someone else’s kids: they’re God’s kids. They belong to Him, not me. And your kids belong to Him, not you. As we continue to renew our minds with this truth, I believe we’ll see great changes in the way we respond!
Be their example
I wrote a post called Our Kids Absorb Us (and What We Should Do About This). In it, I talked about what I call the absorption principle: namely, that kids seem to absorb our character. And this can be a good and bad thing!
If I allow my kids to argue with me, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will. If I’m difficult with my husband, they’re seeing and absorbing that, so they will be difficult with me and each other. And if I have a knee-jerk reaction to every time they mess up, they will do the same.
If you’re anything like me and you entered motherhood with less than awesome character, and motherhood revealed that to you oh-so-clearly, then I want you to be encouraged. Motherhood is actually a God-given opportunity not only to raise children who will impact the future of the earth, but also a chance for you to grow in Christlikeness. Because honestly, you can’t grow unless you’re in a challenging environment, and staying home with your kids is probably about as challenging as it gets.
When we just focus on controlling our own selves and being an example to our kids, we are giving them a clear picture of how we want them to be. As we lead by example, I believe that over time, they will follow.
Give your kids concrete examples
We want to equip our kids with tools that will pave a clear relational path for them. As we help our kids reconcile, we need to provide them with the exact words to say and actions to take.
Two sisters are fighting because one of them took the other one’s property and won’t give it back. As we step in to help reconcile, we ask Sister A, who took the property, why she took it, and ask her what a better course of action would have been. We ask Sister B what she could have done instead of scream and yell. We have them repeat the scenario and do those actions at that very minute, and thus equip them with tools to do it differently the next time.
Don’t be punishment-minded right away
What matters more than anything is for our kids to reconcile, take responsibility for their actions, and do things differently. If we come into their fighting all huffy-puffy and threaten them with punishment, it definitely detracts them caring about making things right.
My two older girls are the ones who tend to fight the most. If I respond by yelling and throwing out threats, which I’ve done many times, it does nothing but focus them on how they don’t want to get in trouble. They don’t even care about what they did wrong at that point, which often makes me even more upset!
If you’ve ever been here, I encourage you to pull back a little. When siblings are fighting, punishment doesn’t matter most, and it doesn’t mean you don’t give it, either. But what matters most at that point is reconciliation and making a plan for how to do things differently the next time they encounter the same situation.
Be a safe place for your kids
While we’re probably not going to ever completely eliminate our kids from arguing/fighting, we want to avoid doing things on our end that provoke it. I’ve noticed that when I’m not a safe place for my kids, they’re insecure and have more of a tendency to argue.
When I say be a safe place, I mean bring your kids in close to you. Hear their hearts when they’re sharing something with you, be compassionate when they hurt themselves, and gracious when they err. Continually draw them in to you instead of push them away. This is the way God changes us as well-from a place of intimacy, not distance.
If you feel like you deal with kids constantly fighting, know that you’re in the majority. The best thing you can do is just focus on yourself-how you can be a better example, how you can respond well, and what good you can bring to the situation. And lastly, commit your children to the Lord and ask Him to work upon their hearts!