How do you make your children get along?

Dear Rebekah,
I enjoy the articles you write and look forward to my copy of No Greater Joy every other month. I have a question though: how do you make your children get along? My son is 5 years old; my daughters are 3 and 1. They fight and squabble about everything. It’s not really violent or hateful, just irritating. I feel like I have to supervise all the time. We are very consistent with the “rights” issue, but the kids are always looking for something, anything that isn’t specifically assigned to one of them, to fight over. They’re so competitive! Ruby, AZ

Dear Ruby,
Assuming you do train consistently (which should include plenty of kid-work to keep your toddlers busy) and assuming you have a good (non-competitive) relationship with your husband as an example to your children, I would say the answer lies in your focus.
Being kind, loving, and sharing gets more “hero points” in our home than any other achievement. Gabe and I offer our highest praise for loving actions, and bestow titles of elevation upon the child that is “going to be a sweet, beautiful mama someday” or “just like Daddy, taking care of his little sisters like Daddy takes care of mama.” Work and school skills are part of the whole picture, but if the tasks aren’t done with consideration and care for one another, they are just “sounding brass and tinkling symbol.” I Cor. 13:1 I recommend reading Love is Like God in the nogreaterjoy.org article archives.
Above all, life is about effecting other people. The people nearest us are WHY we work hard, and WHY we do school. We learn to read in order to read to others and write for others. We work in order to make life better for others. We live, not for ourselves, but for those nearest us. All things done selfishly are vain, empty, and very, very temporary.
Competition is not a bad thing. Joseph Courage, my son, (almost 5) is also very competitive. He likes to compare what he’s done with what his little sister has done, and come out on top. Instead of noticing his comparison, I pull out some work or a project he did the day before and compare him with himself, making verbal note of the improvements.
Occasionally we let him play with other boys on the local playground and compete against them in wrestling, climbing, running, etc. If he was better or faster than them we point it out later when we’re alone with him, and comment on his muscles and his strength, and then come back around to what really makes him special: how manly and kind and wise he is becoming.
Kids are extremely smart in an intuitive way. They know what is most important to you and will take up the same torch. If we as parents are focused on temporal performance, our children’s focus will be the same. If your heart’s desire is to please God, and win souls, your children will follow in your footsteps.

joyoftraining3

Here are some fun, practical ideas to help your kids be sweet:

Hero Cards
Make laminated “hero points” cards. When a child is kind and helpful to his siblings, assign worth by giving him a “hero” card. When he has a certain number (5 or so) he can take the family out for ice cream – thereby being a great hero. When we eat our ice cream, courtesy of Joe Courage, we thank him repeatedly, and talk about how wonderful it is to have such a treat. He goes home on such a cloud of benevolence and satisfaction, it is quite humorous.

Negotiation and Responsible Ownership
When Joe Courage leaves a prized personal belonging in public territory (the living room), it is fair game for Hannah Sunshine to pick up and play with. Joe must then politely ask for his toy, and offer something of equal value to his sister (negotiation). Hannah is then required to hand over the prized toy.
If it is an old toy and not prized or needed, and Honey has been playing with it for a while, Joe is required to wait until she lays it down and then keep it in his room, or else talk her out of it (teaching him to reason and woo).
A personal toy is completely safe if it is kept on personal grounds (in Joe’s bedroom) and all important belongings must be put away in designated locations. (This teaches responsible ownership.)

Whining and Bullying
If Ryshoni comes in whining that Joe has hurt her (accidentally) then Rysha gets a swat for whining and Joe gets a swat for being careless, or more, depending on the level of carelessness. If Rysha comes in without whining – only Joe gets the swat for carelessness.
If Joe intentionally bullies Rysha (hardly ever happens) then he gets a spanking based on the level of bullying. I try to keep an eye on the actual events so I know if Rysh is being over-reactive or not. If there is a fight in which both of them are out of line, then regardless of who started it, both of them are spanked.
We’ve taught our kids to go away from the child that is causing conflict, so as not to be caught in a bad situation. This counsel applies to the public playground as well, and I’m always amazed at how smart kids are when the rules make sense. So many fights are avoided by the kids deciding, on their own, to separate for a while.

strong in spirit

Family Treat
If all three of the kids have been loving, kind, and cooperative all day, with a lot of good work accomplished, we have a Family Treat of their choice. Usually it involves building a fire in the backyard and roasting hot dogs while sitting on straw bales and drinking hot cocoa. Sometimes it means making cookies or cupcakes and letting them decorate. Other ideas would be, setting up a tent in the living room or backyard to camp out. Going to the local lake or pool to swim, going on a biking/hiking trip in the nearest forest, or going to a local basketball game to eat popcorn and watch a lot of really big guys jump around. Our kids live for these moments, and I try to make at least one a week possible for them.

Conclusion
Having sweet kids takes a lot less supervision in the long run. Joseph and Ryshoni head out the back door to play as soon as it is officially “day” and before I’m fully awake. Hannah Sunshine (18 mos.) is not far behind them. I have to call them in for meals, and would never see them if I didn’t make schoolwork fun enough to hold their attention for 20 minute intervals in between the play times. They can’t get enough of playing together. The simple guidelines above make their interaction “safe” for them.
So when the day is over and the dirt and sand go down the bathtub drain, two voices call out from their twin beds, “Good night Mom, I love you, don’t let the begbugs bite, see you in the morning, it was a wonderful day, and tomorrow will be wonderful too…”
Rebekah Joy Anast