Thursday, January 21, 2010

day twenty-two: do not allow children to strike each other

"The only moral lesson which is suited for a child, the most important lesson for every time of life, is this: ‘Never hurt anybody.’”
                                          Denis Breeze

A question that we get asked a lot is “How do you get your kids to NOT fight?” Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of little things that go into siblings getting along. I would never pretend that our children always got along perfectly—or that they never had “their moments.” They are really good friends—both those at home and those who are grown, but seven kids and two parents living in one small fourteen hundred square foot house allowed for a lot of, well, relationship training! When our children didn’t get along, we tried to use the opportunity as a teachable moment, a time to instruct in interpersonal skills, problem solving, deferring, Christian character, and more.

However, one thing that we emphatically taught them concerning each other—from very young ages—is that you are not allowed to strike your sibling. I am sure that they did hit each other on occasion—or that “playing” got out of hand and what started as “normal” living room tackles became real pushes and shoves in anger, but I can’t say that I remember them, even as preschoolers, harming one another.

I think the whole not “striking your sibling” thing has to have three components to ward it off: (1) from the beginning of the child’s early memory, it needs to be ingrained within them that under no circumstances are they allowed to hurt others (siblings or otherwise); (2) it must be a “biggie”; in other words, it can’t just be a passing “don’t do that” or “go sit in the corner for that,” but instead must be a huge deal in your home, right up there with lying and other “biggies”; (3) it must be punished consistently if it occurs (while making a “big” deal out of this “biggie”).

Since this is a Positive Parenting blog, intent to give suggestions on Positive and Preventive Parenting, as opposed to Corrective Parenting, I will leave number three of the list above up to your personal discipline style. The other two, however, are taught through consistency and empathy training. Consistency in keeping appropriate behaviors in the forefront of their minds and hearts—and consistency in discussing these things all the time (as well as consistency in discipline). And empathy training by putting within their hearts that we must think of how others feel at all times.

I liken enforcement of the “biggies” of Christian parenting (lying, striking, disrespect, cheating, stealing, etc.) to a carseat analogy. People always say that they cannot “get” their kids to do something or to stop doing something, such as in the hitting scenario. However, those same parents somehow got their infant, then their toddler, to sit in a car seat every single, solitary time that child was riding in a vehicle. How could that be? Didn’t the child want out? Didn’t the toddler scream and throw fits? Didn’t you have to let him out and allow him to sit where he wanted to in order to have peace?

Of course, the answers to those questions are obvious ones. The child stayed in the car seat while traveling in the vehicle because there was simply no other choice. The same thing can be true of anything that is important to you in your parenting. If you truly want hitting (or lying or any negative behavior) to end, you must make it non-optional, just like you did staying in the car seat.

While I certainly do not agree with the above quote that the only lesson a child needs is not to hit someone, I do agree that ONE of the “most important lessons for every time of life, is this: ‘Never hurt anybody.’”

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