It’s Thursday afternoon, and your kids are watching TV after school. It’s not quite time to get dinner started, so you take the moment of quiet to sit down and read a book. You’ve just gotten comfy and…what happens next?
You know the drill. It could be Saturday morning when you’re trying to sleep in, or Sunday afternoon when you’re trying to enjoy family time or Monday morning while you’re doing laundry. Just about anyone who has kids can tell you that just about any time you get settled doing something of your own, you can just about guarantee the kids will start fighting.
“MooOooOoooOooMMm!!!” (Why do they always use that same awful voice?!)
When my kids were babies, I couldn’t wait for the day they would be old enough to play together, and I’m not gonna lie, it has been incredible. My kids have always enjoyed a close friendship, but when they are small, the line between a child’s “hug” and “hit” is rather blurry. I had to stay close by because frequent intervention was just part of the game. They fought over toys, what show to watch, who was sitting where, what color cup they had. I played with them — or did my thing in the same room when I could — so I could help them navigate how to be in relationship with another human.
Now my kids are 12, nine, eight, and four, and they have learned a thing or two about getting along. They still fight about toys, what show to watch, who is sitting where, and…okay they don’t really care about colored dishes anymore, thank heavens. And while I have been telling them their whole lives to respect one another, share, take turns, and be kind, I know this will remain a struggle until they all move out and get their own spaces.
But now that they’re older, I let my children fight.
I’m not telling you to ignore your children or let them hurt each other. When kids are smaller, they need more supervision and guidance, and even now I have a threshold when I will come intervene, but for the most part, they do better when I step back and force them to figure it out for themselves.
One of the benefits of having siblings is the opportunity to learn relationship skills as you grow up, and my children can’t do that if I’m constantly stepping in to do it for them. Just like our kids won’t learn science if we build their model solar system for them, they won’t learn math if we keep telling them the solution, and they won’t learn to swim if we always hold them in the water. Parents, we know the struggle is where we learn, so we have to give them space to struggle in relationships too so they can learn how to work together and solve their own conflicts.
Sometimes they scream and call each other names. By the time I intervene, they need to separate and cool down before they can address each other calmly. They are learning that if they lose their temper, they should give themselves space to regain control before they say or do something they regret.
Sometimes they punch and wrestle and hurt each other. Obviously I don’t want this to go too far, but I’m not one to shut it down right away. They are learning that they can do very real damage to someone if they let themselves go, and there are very real consequences to engaging in physical aggression — like getting punched back! I want them to learn that if they get to the point they need a physical release, they will need to step outside to the punching bag, go for a run, or ask for help. (And, I’m not gonna lie; I’m okay with the boys knowing how to take a punch and keep standing — and my girl knowing how to throw a punch — just in case they ever need to know.)**
Sometimes they cry and whine for me to tell each other what to do. Usually I refuse and tell them to work it out, unless they can prove they have already made a valid effort to solve the problem themselves. But let’s be honest; this is hard work. They’re kids and they’re tired, and I don’t always make them do all the dirty work. But I also don’t just dole out commands without making them think about what I’m saying. I’ll mediate their complaints, ask them what they think needs to happen, and brainstorm ideas that could land on a compromise. And sometimes I say forget it and give them a snack, because these kids get HANGRY. But they are learning relationships require sacrifice, and sometimes they also require snacks. #relatable
I’m not saying my kids are perfect, and they certainly have a long way to go learning to navigate mature relationships. My job is not to fix all their problems now but rather to prepare them to be successful adults one day. I’ve dealt with enough immature adults to know I needed to make this a priority in my parenting. We emphasize empathy, compromise, serving others like Jesus, and love. One day I will be gone, but hopefully my kids will always have each other, and the lessons they learned together will help them throughout their lives.