This article is written by Karissa Tunis
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Having three children means that there is a lot of activity in our house! And for the most part, there is a lot of love and laughter. Nothing makes me as happy as watching these three humans, who I helped to create, play together in a kind and harmonious way!
However, there are times when someone gets upset. Whether sharing suddenly becomes painfully difficult, someone starts crying because their feelings were hurt, or things build into a nasty argument/fight…… Whatever the reason, we have all needed to step in and mediate these sibling quarrels.
I try to remind myself that discipline can actually be looked at as a learning opportunity. How wonderful that we get the chance to teach our children what is acceptable and how to behave appropriately. It takes a lot of patience, practice, and dozens (sometimes hundreds) of reminders! But it is like fireworks when it “clicks” and you witness them making positive choices on their own!
But, they are still kids, and they are still siblings that have their moments with one another. If someone is not sharing nicely, or someone is mean towards their brother or sister, I will address it with that specific child. But, what do you do when they are all three getting into disagreements? You know the kind I’m talking about – where it’s nothing major – just a lot of bickering, annoying, non-sense? The kind that you are tired of addressing with “Be nice to each other,” “Please play nicely,” or “Can you just PLEASE get along?”
Every situation is different, and every situation needs to be handled in a unique way. What works one day for one child in a single moment, might not be as effective later that afternoon, or with their sibling. It’s hard to say that there is always one way to discipline, teach, or redirect. And trust me, I use such a variety of techniques and options when trying to help my own kids become mature responsible little individuals.
Recently we had one of those afternoons were the non-sense was building. No one was physically getting hurt. No one was doing any one thing that needed to be immediately addressed. Instead they were just bickering, and I could tell that in-spite of my encouragement to all get along, it was escalating. Before it got to the level where tough punishments would need to be assigned, I instead announced that they could either work-it-out, or I would be assigning a group time-out. It did not matter who was guilty, but if I heard any more fussing, whining, or mean voices, then they were all going to go upstairs to their beds, and each lay quietly for 15 minutes and either rest or look at a book.
Guess what happened?
It worked!!!! All of a sudden the level of frustration coming from the playroom began to soften. I started hearing compromises “You can play with my toy if I can play with what you have” and so on. I’m not saying they all decided to do the same thing in unison, but they found a way to all be in the same room and get along – Amazing!!
But before you think I just discovered a parenting delight – I also have to give full disclosure and tell you that this has not worked every time. As wonderful as my children are, they also have a lot of strong will. A great character trait that I hope will take them far in life, but can at times make parenting a challenge.
First let me say that I am a big believer in order. When there is order to begin with, it is much easier to rain things in when they get out of control. And it is much easier than the alternative of living in chaos and trying to avoid it. If poor choices are not addressed at a young age, those choices become even bigger as kids continue to grow. If you let your toddler hit you, or even other people, imagine what kind of behavior that will turn into when they reach pre-school or even elementary school? If your child can get away with talking back and manipulative behavior now, imagine what that will turn into when they are older? Kids will not simply “grow out of it.” They need to be taught what is appropriate behavior.
I tell my children all the time that it is my job to help guide them into being the best version of themselves that they can possibly be. I want my kids to be respectful, responsible, and polite. I want them to be liked by their peers, appreciated by their teachers, and a good team mate on the soccer field. I want them to be loved and respected. And I want everyone else to see their amazing qualities like I do. I know what they are capable of, and I encourage them to show that to the world!
So when they are not behaving well, we need to address it. Sometimes it is small and is something a snack, a nap, or a quick conversation with a few extra big hugs can resolve. But other times they need to learn that there are consequences to our actions, and that choices we make will either give us a positive or a negative result. How wonderful that we can begin teaching our children these very valuable life lessons now at a young age!
But back to my lesson. Because my children are strong willed, they do like to test me at times. So while a mere threaten of a group time-out worked at first, it doesn’t always at a later date. Sometimes even after being warned, the poor behavior continues. But I have learned that when you say you are going to do something, you need to follow through. If you don’t, they will never respect you! This is why it is also very important to never threaten something you can’t or won’t actually do. An example would be “If you don’t behave then Santa won’t bring you gifts.” If there is no chance that you would delay Santa, or stop him from dropping off the presents, then you cannot say that. There are lots of other options, so pick one that you can and will actually enforce.
And I can actually enforce a group time-out, and I have. I always give a warning first. But if that did not convince them to change their attitudes, then I calmly and firmly tell them that I have had enough of the arguing and it is time for everyone to go up to their beds. They can pick a book if they’d like, but the clock starts once everyone is laying down and silent.
It is amazing how 15 minutes of down time can re-adjust the mood in the house! Sometimes someone might fall asleep, and then we know they needed a little extra rest. Sometimes they revert back to old choices, and then we know a repeated lesson and a conversation may be really beneficial for that individual. Or they may get up and decide it is way more fun to get along and play, then it is to lay in bed and be quiet.
You might think that a group time-out is just a lazy parenting trick, but there are actually a few benefits that I have witnessed. Like I mentioned above, they begin to compromise with one another. If I say “the next person to argue get’s a timeout” it is amazing how quickly a sibling can instigate something in order to get the other one in trouble. But by giving the responsibility to all of them – this now means if one argues, they all get sent to bed. So they try to diffuse the arguments. Now they are trying to make each other happy. They are learning teamwork. They are talking it out instead of just whining. They are helping each other instead of complaining. And they are figuring it out in a positive way.
Again, I only use this technique if they are all participants in the build-up. If there is only one that is having a rough moment, I will pull that one aside, address the issues, and help re-direct. But when they are all contributing to a complicated environment, a group time-out can be just the solution! Either the warning works and they work it out, or they all get 15 minutes to re-adjust their attitudes.
Good Luck! Parenting is not easy. But it is wonderful to watch our kids learn, grow, and choose to be the best versions of themselves 🙂
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