The Practicing Siblings

November 30, 2007


A brief moment of silence… the deep intake of breathe before the scream erupts, I suspect.


Yep. Just as I suspected. Isaac and Brigham are “playing” together.  Sigh… more fighting.

Slowing I get up from my chair in my office. Not too easy to concentrate on digital isolation theories – let alone write a white paper on them – when mournful chaos is erupting in the room next door.

“Ok, boys, what is going on?”  “I-I-I-I-s-s-s-a-a-a-c, he h-i-i-i-t me-e-e-e!” my youngest boy wails.

Unfortunately, the scene is repeated more often then I’d like to admit. It seems that the chemistry between some of my children is just off.  They rather delight in inflicting pain and torture on each other.

It has been a parenting issue that has pressed heavily on my mind, and I have wondered repeatedly what to do. I’ve tried threatening, bribing, rewarding, begging, and, yes, even spanking. But to no avail – they seem as happy as ever to pull off the kid gloves the minute a minor conflict ensues.

About a week ago, during our morning family scripture study a thought popped into my mind. “The fighting has become a habit – a habit born of a lack of skills.  How do you break a habit? You don’t… you replace it.”  The thought was so strong it startled me.  Of course, they don’t have the skills yet – especially since I have not specifically and systematically taught them.

So, that very morning we digressed from the topic at hand and discussed habits and the ruts we often get into out of lack of skills, laziness, or both. We openly talked about the arguing and fighting.  In the end, as a family, we resolved that the only way to restore a higher level of peace and harmony was to replace the habit of fighting with other, more peaceful tactics.  And to do that we had to practice.

So, corporal punishment, threatening, bribing and punishments (at least in its old form) went out the window, and practicing came into play.  Here’s how it works… the second an argument begins (or even before if Margie and I are on hand), the offending siblings are split apart and asked if they are making good choices.


“Ok, then how could we handle this better?”

A calm conversation follows giving various alternative responses.  Once that is settled, they get to “practice” handling the situation the calm, peaceful and rational way.  Ideally, they get to practice 5 or 6 times… but sometimes parental patience only accommodates once.  Regardless, they practice doing it right.

The result?  Harmony.  First of all, it turns out that being compelled to change your attitude in the midst of a good mad is just about the worst punishment that you can inflict on a child.  Second, real conflict resolution skills are being emphasized, learned, and applied by our children (and, oh, the humility of confession… but also by their parents!).

Is it a lot more work for us as parents?  Yes. Do we enjoy doing it? Not really. Do the benefits far out-weigh the cost?

Most definitely.