Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, the Eyres are sharing what they consider the best parenting ideas they have come across during their three decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide.
Lately, we've been thinking about the top ideas or methods that seem to work for parents. These are not complicated concepts or parenting philosophies but very basic ideas, many of them involving a “prop” or some kind of physical object, and all of them can be quickly introduced and used within your household and with your children. Each of them addresses a particular parenting challenge — a common need or concern that we have often heard parents express over the years.
The first idea deals with a problem that every parent with two or more children has faced. It is the challenge of fighting, bickering, arguing, or, as it is sometimes gently described, “sibling rivalry.”
This kind of contention can drive the peace and the spirit of love out of a home in a hurry, and it can drive a parent crazy. There is nothing worse than trying to be the judge and jury in every conflict between children: “Who started it? Well, what did you do? And then what happened? You did what? Who said what to whom?” It never ends! You are trying to decide who is to blame and who should be punished, and most of all, you are trying to figure out how to stop it from happening.
The problem is that by intervening, parents take ownership of the argument and take away the benefits of kids resolving their own disagreements and learning how to apologize and “repent” to each other when they have hurt or insulted or belittled their sibling.
And when these little conflicts, fights or arguments are not resolved, they tend to fester, expand and get worse. And if we are not careful, words such as “hate” and name-calling creep in, and our own kids develop an animosity toward each other that may undermine their future relationship and loyalty.
The best way we have found to deal with this issue and to get away from always intervening, being the judge and trying to mete out the punishment is something we call “the repenting bench.” It works like this:
1. Get a simple bench (we got ours from an old church in England while we lived there; it's a stiff-backed, uncomfortable little pew). It can be anything, such as a simple wooden garden bench or whatever you can find. It should be large enough to accommodate two children, and it should not be comfortable.
2. In a family meeting or family home evening, explain how it works: Any two family members who are arguing or fighting are sent to the repenting bench, and the only way to get off is to figure out what you did wrong (not what the other person did) and apologize or repent to the other person by saying, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Rehearse or role-play in your family meeting exactly what will happen when there is an argument. Have everyone commit to going to the bench when they are sent there, including parents.
3. When two kids are sent to the bench (do it matter-of-factly: “That’s just where you go when you fight — we have all agreed”), a parent stands by. When a child can identify what he did wrong, his part in the argument, he simply states it, says he is sorry and will try not to do it again, asks for forgiveness from the other child, gives her a little hug and can then leave the bench. The other child, if she is ready, can do the same, or she has to sit there until she figures it out.
If you strongly establish the repenting bench and what it means and how it works in a family meeting, and if you are consistent with it for two or three weeks, it will become a family institution and a “good habit” that will begin to happen automatically and without argument or resistance any time there is a fight or the kind of bickering that, left unchecked, can lead to real animosity.
Tune into future columns for more top parenting ideas.