How to Teach Your Kids to Fight

There is one parenting struggle I would gladly live without. You could remove it from my life, and I would not care, but I would definitely notice. 

If I could live without it, I might even give up coffee, traveling adventures, and chocolate. Ok, no… not all of that…but I would give up coffee.

It is this: fighting kids.

How to teach your kids to fight?

Watching them battle over the last Twizzler, a costume necklace, whining, “That’s my cup,” yelping, “She has more candy rockets,” demanding, “I want the blue cup,” tattling, “She won’t help me buckle up … she’s bossy AND tells me what to do, she got two turns, I want to go on the automated horse first, I want to put the Loonie in the cart,  I want to stand on the end of the cart…”


How to teach your kids to fight

So how to teach your kids to fight?

Whining, complaining, tattling, and general squabbling: how do I get those out of my daily life? 

WHAT? You too: you would give up coffee WITH me?

But if I give up coffee, how am I going to check math questions, and load the dishwasher three times before lunch?

In my exasperation, I asked a group of homeschool moms if there was a permanent solution for all this kid fighting.

My question either blindsided them or they wondered what well-meaning, though idealistic nonsense had I brought into my parenthood experience. Children without whining, complaining, tattling, arguing, or hitting??? Is she SERIOUS?

Apparently, I’m holding on hard to my pre-parenting idealism. “My child would never do that! syndrome”. Or, I wouldn’t let my child do THAT! Or, if only those parents would listen to my sage advice, even though I’ve not parented a child, syndrome.

I am coming by the learning of patience honestly.

Lots and lots and lots of practice.

Patience is really just understanding manifested in practical moments. And I am S L O W L Y coming to understand my children.

Curiously, I am repeatedly told that I have great kids, so kind and considerate toward each other. 

At that time we were twelve hours north of home, living in someone else’s house temporarily. Winter was so thick and the snow so deep you’d have to dig out a mailbox. We needed a change of pace from our winter cabin fever, so we brought our studies into the public sphere, a coffee shop.

So, we sat with my coffee and a couple of canned drinks and played a Professor Noggins ocean game for a good long time. We were unaware that someone was watching us.

A fellow came over and said hello, asked the familiar question, Are these all yours? and blindsided me with a question I’d never heard spoken so eagerly, kind of like someone asking a first-time celebrity for an autograph:

You have really lovely children. What are you doing that your kids are so well-behaved and nice?

I didn’t really know how to answer that (since I got my first paragraph of this post from the same morning we’d headed to the coffee shop). However, I am never shocked by charm, but honest and warm curiosity from a stranger, well, that caught me off guard.

My only response was: They’re with me all the time.

Yup, I hear ya. This might also explain why they can be intolerant of each others’ imperfections, impatient, sharp, sarcastic, and quick-witted (in a not-so-kind way), because “They’re with me all the time.”

I am usually kind to people. So naturally, my children will be kind too.

I try very hard not to charm people but listen to them, to really hear their heart rather than insist they understand mine first.

But I am also not afraid of people. I used to be, but I worked my way slowly out of that mindset and now recognize that we’re all human, perfectly imperfect. Everyone is just trying to find their way to live a meaningful life of purpose and find their happy place despite a continual barrage of challenges.

I like to have fun. I’m not afraid of other people seeing me do it, even in a coffee shop with my four kids in the middle of a school day.

So maybe being with me all the time, my children reflect all that.

Still, there is enough conflict, trouble, and frustration in my household, that I know what this stranger sees isn’t static, and a lot of the good he sees exists because of a LOT of hard work.

As one of my kids so aptly stated: Mom is the marmalade; we’re the pieces of bread. (What mom really is: an unpaid counselor…if only I could run the tab at $150 an hour).

Perhaps my kids tattle because I actually listen to them.

I could tell them to go away and figure it out for themselves (and I have, and in some circumstances, I should). But I believe the only solution is to let go of the notion they will take my wise interventions and never require being told again how to deal with their troubles.

My kids’ issues are real.

Yes, on occasion some complaints seem inane to me, I won’t lie. But their concerns are real for their younger hearts. What do I think they’re going to be frustrated over–declining stock dividends, the lack of adequate vaccinations, inadequate sanitation, and drinking water for the developing world? 

No, they’ll be fighting over the last Twizzler, complaining of bossy sisters, complaining about helping unpack groceries.

And herein lies the opportunity to teach them to deal with their issues and how to teach your kids to fight right.

So I can engage them and ask:

  • What have you done about this issue/conflict/challenge? Funny that a mom I know (a mom of thirteen) suggested I ask this question when the kids come running at me with complaints about their siblings. I actually have asked this question loads of times. It assumes, and requires, that you have thought about and attempted to solve your own trouble.
  • Have them talk it out in front of you. This requires you to stop what you’re doing and engage them with full attention. It’s a great way to teach them that words can stoke fires, to help them understand each other, and teach that words and tone really can help dispel conflict.
  • Have them explore their underlying feelings. They might be in conflict because they feel hurt, offended, mistreated, you fill in the blank… Asking them to explore their feelings teaches them that their feelings are valid, that they are responsible for their feelings and they can do something about it.
  • Require them to listen to each others’ issues. Have them listen, but also reflect back on what they heard their sibling say. It’s remarkable how many frustrations occur simply because of misunderstanding. (I would know, I’m also still married after twenty-five years). The mere act of clearly stating another’s belief about something makes that person feel heard–even when I still disagree with them.
  • Perhaps they’ll just have to agree to disagree. Or figure out a compromise. Negotiating is not fun; it requires effort and doesn’t make everyone happy all the time. Sometimes it’s simply required when two or more are gathered together.

It’s not disagreement, but graceful disagreement that makes the world go round.

Mariah Helgeson

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