Do Your Kids Need a Bickering Bootcamp?
Q: When you suddenly notice arguing, general strife that is seemingly NOT momentary…..what do you first address in the home? I am feeling frustrated because it seems sort of sudden and not just one or two kids. I have been very tired and struggling to buck up…so maybe my attitude is part of it. I would love to know your thoughts in case it sparks my thinking.
A: Hey. Well, first you should know this neeeeeever happens in our home.
Just kidding; you’re totally not alone. Sometimes things like this surface very evidently all at once. When I notice it, my approach is an intensive bootcamp-style time of retraining.
Here’s how that goes in our home:
#1- LET THEM KNOW IT’S BACK TO BASICS
I pull everyone VERY close and identify it very clearly:
“Hey guys, what I’m seeing is that everyone’s having very ugly attitudes, being unkind, fighting easily, letting things get under their skin, being grumpy and rude toward one another, and growing bitter rather than offering patience & forgiveness. So instead of getting to be off in your various corners doing things on your own, or playing with each other in other rooms, I don’t feel like I can trust you all to do that kindly right now. Instead, what we’re going to do is for all of you to come close at least for today –maybe much longer– and I’m going to be listening and helping you think about what your responses SHOULD sound like.”
And then they all get to pick individual things or quiet games and come sit in the same room with me and I’d be doing exactly that. Listening and coaching, listening and coaching.
#2- DON’T WAIT FOR IT TO ESCALATE. DEAL WITH EVERYTHING YOU DON’T LIKE. YES, EVEN THE SMALL THINGS.
The first minute something comes up, I don’t wait for it to escalate. If I can see a boy’s frustration level rising, or hear it in his voice, I deal with that. I might call him close–
“For your whole life, people are going to frustrate you. What are you going to do when you notice someone starting to frustrate you?”
Coach him through HIS choices, HIS responses, HIS attitudes.
Do this even for the “little” things. What you’ll probably realize when you do this is that you’ve been letting way too many things go. This may be why you’ve been so angry.
#3- DON’T JUST DEAL WITH EXTERNALS… KEEP COACHING THEIR HEARTS
The first time someone speaks an ugly word, I’d stop them, ask them what they should have said/done, and ask them to do that thing. I ask them to keep doing it until they can do it with the right attitude. Not just “I’m SOR-ry” (dripping with contempt and only-cause-I-have-to-ism) –but instead– keep coaching them until they speak (from the heart) a contrite “I’m sorry for stepping on your hurt toe. I’ll try to be more careful. Please forgive me?”
Sometimes they need opportunities to wash their face, do a quick chore/errand in the house, etc., to gather themselves before they try again, but I do not let them stop at half-hearted, still-embittered responses/interactions. We keep working, reframing their attitude, coaching them to a healthy biblical perspective about their choices, until they can rightly see their actions as they really are, call things what they really are, and then, from the heart, seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
#4- DO NOT STOP UNTIL THINGS ARE AS THEY SHOULD BE.
Yes, this will go on all day long, for however long it takes until I start to see a different level of kindness.
Many people give up too quickly, once things are back to a slightly-more-manageable level. No, don’t stop too soon– that’s how you got where you are! KEEP COACHING THEM toward:
- kindness in their interaction with the sibling that grates on their nerves
- true respect in their tone and responses toward you and your husband
- diligence in their work
- servant-hearted interactions with one another
- genuine gratitude for the meal in front of them
- a willingness to let irritating things roll off their backs and extend grace to one another
DON’T GIVE UP TOO SOON! Keep going until things are flowing the way you would like for them to do… through the rest of the day at least. (This may be a multi-day process, but it should at least be done for a solid day.) Then wait a little longer and watch for eruptions before you let out the reins.
#5- SLOWLY LET OUT THE REINS AGAIN, BUT STILL WATCH THEM!
And then they kind of gain “freedom” and a relaxing of how close they have to be, for each individual child, depending on how much I can trust them to operate in general kindness and peace. If I can’t trust one or more of them to do that, they stay closer than those I *can* trust.
MOM: The MOST IMPORTANT THING is accepting THIS as your job.
Accepting this– the daily, never-ending dishing out of discipline, instruction, and correction— as my job has been the game-changer.
We want to do other things. We want them to just get it. But what they need are boundaries and coaching, boundaries, and coaching, as they are released out into the world.
Hoping they’ll act wisely when they’re away from us, when they consistently show that they don’t, is just a fool’s hope.
This is all part of training them to be godly men and women who do what’s right even when no one’s looking. Otherwise, we’re training them that they can go on doing lots of things foolishly and ungodly… only until it gets to a fever pitch, and THEN we’ll step in.
But if we notice the little things, and correct them from the get-go, they’re learning that it’s not a “do everything I want to until mom explodes” thing, but an actual daily choice, even in the little things, to be kind and forgiving and thoughtful and diligent in their work, etc.
By the way, this is all done pleasantly– not like a robotic terrible horrible day.
Go on enjoying your day, smiling at them, being silly, snuggling with the littles, and laughing at jokes your older kids make. This entire process should be done cheerfully, not like a “punishment” but as an exercise in discipline for ALL of you– something needed and good. Be cheerful & firm. Loving & firm. Smiling & firm. Snuggling & firm.
But keep coaching them back to the sorts of attitudes they should have for the rest of their lives.
When we do this, we’re teaching them:
- how to see their own part in a conflict,
- how to change their attitude toward someone,
- and how to pursue peace and reconciliation.
“Bickering Bootcamps” give us the opportunity to prepare our children by giving them skills that will bless them all their lives.
IN THE COMMENTS, please share: Is bickering common in your home? How do you deal with it? Do your kids need a “Bickering Bootcamp?”
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