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?”
11 thoughts on “Do Your Kids Need a Bickering Bootcamp?”
Good words of wisdom and practical tips in our daily lives, as I have seen a lot of this lately in my kids. Thank you for the reminder to keep correcting and training. 🙂
So very good and practical Jess! So very proud of the mom you are and are becoming!
Um… I’m thinking I might need to implement this like…today! I have noticed an increase in bickering among my boys, and just last night remarked to my husband, “they’ll turn anything into an argument!” Thank you also for the encouragement to keep working on it. 🙂
Also, since you asked, one way that I handle this in our home is to frame the issue in scriptural words, such as, “With the way you are acting right now, are you out-doing your brother in showing honor (Rom. 12:10)?” Of course, they usually try to sputter out something like, “I don’t know….” or even a bold, “YES! But he wasn’t showing honor to ME!” We keep talking about it and I try to coach them toward admitting that no, they were not out-doing the other in showing honor or putting their brother’s interest above their own, and we talk about that the reason they have such fights is because they are each loving their own way more than they love their brother. I think this is my broken-record speech as a mom!! I’ve given it so many times that if I’m ever incapacitated or delirious in the hospital, I’d like to think this might be the crazed speech I’d give the ICU staff! 😉
Wonderful! I love it!
Doug recently drove that verse home to our kids during a family devo, but I need to probably make it part of the daily rotation. Perfect. Thanks for sharing how you practically bring the Scripture to bear in your kids’ hearts and lives.
Thanks for these reminders, Jess. I definitely relate to waiting too long and giving up too soon. I like your idea of gathering everyone around you and making the focus be a training or re-training and not feeling like you need to get on with the next more “important” thing. This IS the most important thing. And doing it that intentionally would help remind me of that. Sometimes it can get confusing as to what to deal with and how to deal with it. I oftentimes think this isn’t important or maybe this will go away. It never does. But it helps me to say to myself that I’m striving for progress not perfection in how I parent.
Progress, not perfection. — sounds like a good anthem for life as a mom.
This sounds like a good approach! I haven’t thought about tackling it this way before, and all the arguing and fighting between my 5 boys these school holidays calls for some positive action from me, rather than frustration at not being able to get on with all the other stuff we need to do. Reminds me a bit of potty training – taking a day – or three out to focus on learning one particular skill, rather than just tackling isolated incidents in the midst of a regular schedule and becoming frustrated at the hold up and constant interruptions.
Thanks for this – hopefully it will work really well and we’ll be all set for church family camp this coming weekend!
I know this is an older post but I am dealing with this very thing with my kiddos. Such nasty attitudes can seem to come out of nowhere. And there is this popular biblical parenting book that *apparently* (I haven’t read it myself) tells you to let your kids work out their own problems. Don’t be a referee all day!! I’m told it says. This doesn’t feel like training them up in the way they should go. Have you heard this parenting philosophy? How would you respond to that???
I know this is an older post but I am dealing with this very thing with my kiddos. Such nasty attitudes can seem to come out of nowhere. And there is this popular biblical parenting book that *apparently* (I haven’t read it myself) tells you to let your kids work out their own problems. Don’t be a referee all day!! I’m told it says. That doesn’t feel like training them up in the way they should go. Have you heard this parenting philosophy? How would you respond to that???
I don’t see it, Scripturally, at all.
It goes against Deuteronomy 6 (teaching them all day long, throughout every day), Proverbs (parents continually pouring wise thinking into their children), several places in the epistles, and the pattern of Hebrews 12 (not leaving them without discipline, like illegitimate children).
It seems entirely unlike biblical thinking, and more like some modern thinking of the secular world.
Whatever they say, an approach of “leaving kids to themselves” or leaving kids to solve problems on their own is NOT a biblical pattern of parenting. It’s Lord of the Flies; it’s abandoning them to their foolishness. It’s turning them over to their flesh and leaving them without wisdom or correction in the ways they are in need. It’s a decidedly unloving way to approach parenting.
Children come in need of shaping and guiding, in need of discipline and correction of their faulty thinking. The biblical pattern for parents calls for a daily, throughout-the-day approach to parenting… continually shaping, disciplining, teaching, training, reproving, all without exasperation, and all done in love.
Jess, I was digging for this article, thanks so much for it. The comments are helpful, too. I have another question, if you still get these comments. Do you ever spend some focused “Bible study” time on this with the kids, on the topic of arguing with each other? Or have Doug pause “family devotions” and focus on this for awhile? Would you suggest that or just naturally teach it in the moment. Also, do you think it’s worse in the winter? Not an excuse, but we have been indoors a lot (lots of nasty, cold rain here, not that it’s uber cold here but still) and it does seem that it’s escalating. Is that generally true? At any rate, I guess it’s a good time to see their hearts and what’s in there.