- Tattling vs. Informing
- Child "parents"
- Proactive rather than reactive situations
- Siblings resolving issues between themselves
Rather, it takes continual and consistent parental direction and training, and then years of practice on the child's part. Of course there are good strategies to help us train our children's character and behavior, and it can greatly help the daily situations and make good progress in the children...but we need to try to be patient, because our children will need our training for many years.
Tattling vs. Informing
Tattling drives me nuts. Can I just say that I'm totally with you on this? But we found for years that it did Bob and I no good to tell the children to "Stop tattling". And the confusing thing I think for parents regarding teaching their children not to tattle, is that sometimes we need our children to inform us on what a sibling is doing, if a sibling is in danger or is about to break something. When siblings know that they should inform on one another there is a good safety net and sense of accountability amongst themselves, helping them make good decisions when their siblings are around. And especially within a large family in a small house...there's always someone watching. *wink*
But just like with any other aspect of parenting, we have to be consistent, not disciplining for a behavior one minute and then letting it go the next. If we receive their tattling sometimes but scold them for it other times - how are they supposed to learn when it's okay to go to mom or dad and when it's not? What does 'tattling' mean, anyway? So we had to define it in order to teach against it better. Here is what I came up with. Our definition of tattling:
"Seeking consequences for the person you think deserves it."We explain to the children that if a sibling is in danger or something is at risk of being broken, we as the parents need to be informed about it right away. But, if they're only seeking consequences for the person they think deserves it - that is not okay. We've also told them that if they seek consequences they will find it - but it won't be for the person they think deserves it. The Tattler will reap their own consequence for tattling. So they had better consider carefully what they choose to say before they say it, and determine whether or not it's just tattling or if it's justified informing of necessary information for a parent. It takes practice, but we've found that the children start to get it once they have a definition to apply.
Our children have tended to tell another sibling what to do and then expect that sibling to obey them. *chuckle* This is understandable considering that they have me all day as an example. But I am the parent - and they are not. I've explained many times that they actually do not get to model me in this way with their siblings. They are not to give directions and expect (or force) compliance. The children need to learn a different way of speaking to their siblings than how I do. Of course they should imitate being polite, respectful, quiet, and cheerful - but they are not their sibling's parent. Children do not need 10 parents. Just 2.
However, the children are free to offer a reminder to a sibling, of what they ought to be doing if they're beginning to stray. And they may make a suggestion to a sibling regarding their behavior or choices. And most all of the time it would be wise for that sibling to head the advice from a brother or sister. But the sibling has the freedom to say Yes or No; to listen or not. If they listen to the reminder of what they should be doing at that time, or to the suggestion for a change in behavior, they will likely find themselves in a better place than where they were headed. But if they choose not to listen and instead continue on their path of disobedience, then they will have consequences for their misbehavior and likely even more so when we learn that the child was warned or reminded but chose to ignore it and proceed in willful disobedience.
So again, clarifying this distinction in how the children speak with one another is really important - and it makes all the difference in the original child's reaction as well. If they give a direction to a sibling expecting compliance but do not receive it, they are likely to try to force compliance, or discipline their sibling for non-compliance. Both of which are totally inappropriate of course. We teach our children that they may offer a reminder or a suggestion to a sibling but then they need to just smile, shrug, and walk away (again, unless someone might get hurt or something broken) no matter the outcome and let the parents handle it. We have found this to be very freeing to children once they begin to understand! The children do not have the burden of being a parent when they are 14-years-old or 7-years-old or any young age. They have the freedom to just enjoy their siblings and to smile at them, to encourage and praise them. That's all. This has been an important point for our children, especially teens.
Now there is another dimension for older children whom I've put in charge on my behalf for short periods of time. All the children can understand that while mom is out of the room or out of the house, this oldest teenagers are in charge temporarily. We still do not have our children implement consequences for younger children, however if the older child gives an appropriate direction and the younger one refuses to comply during that short time, then mom will enforce that failure to obey when she returns. So I am supporting the child who's temporarily in charge, and the younger ones know this when I've told them. If I give the oldest teenagers temporary authority then I need to be willing to back her up. It's not fair to give a child responsibility without any recourse for backing that up; and the children will not respect a babysitter's authority knowing that she's powerless to do anything about it. This practicing of authority is good for kids, and is also good for when we are out as a family in public or in case of an emergency situation (such as needing to call for emergency services, or during a fire, or at the park when strangers are present). The younger ones will have practiced listening to an older sibling when it is appropriate and necessary.
Proactive rather than reactive situations
I had one mother ask me what she should do when she's nursing her baby and the 4-year-old sees that the 20-month-old sibling is disobeying (knowing that mom is unavailable and won't get up during nursing) and attempts to correct the situation. Should mom allow this, one child correcting another? I would encourage moms in these situations, and especially with scenarios like nursing which happens on a regular basis, to implement a routine for both of the older children so that they're productively occupied (as a young child, or as a 3-year-old boy perhaps) while mom is nursing. Then the children do not have the opportunity to disobey when mom is not available, and an older sibling is not faced with the dilemma of intervening, and beginning future habits that will need re-training later, but rather is also occupied themselves. We can be proactive and have a plan with any situation that is a regular part of our day: when mom's preparing a meal, folding laundry, nursing, schooling older siblings, cleaning bathrooms, whatever.
Siblings resolving issues between themselves
This is a very tricky one, and I wish I had a better solution to share with you such as a book to recommend (although I have heard that there are some to be found online).
One thing we do currently is to give siblings the opportunity to try to solve it themselves before we step in and do it for them. I do not jump up and run to every single situation (unless I hear that "I'm being hurt" cry), but rather I wait quietly and listen to what's happening. We've taught the children to communicate with others, to explain what the problem is rather than just yelling or hitting. Another person cannot know what is wrong exactly or what their sibling needs unless they are told, so we require that they do that. If they come to me I help them diagnose what their need is exactly (they often haven't thought it through completely initially when they're young) and then give them some words to communicate to the sibling involved. And we require that siblings listen to one another. They're not allowed to stomp away or plug their ears. They need to show respect and listen whether they feel like it or not and be respectful.
We also try to help the children recognize what their own negative character issue is in a situation so that they can learn to recognize it on their own and then handle it appropriately. Sometimes it's a child's pride that has started an argument or problem - not wanting to be wrong, not wanting to hear a sibling out, not wanting to sacrifice or compromise. Sometimes it's impatience - not waiting long enough for a very little sibling to process what the problem is and to make a good choice, or waiting for a sibling to complete a task that is in the way of another sibling. This skill or self-recognition is also good when we are praying together or when they hear scripture taught to them about pride or impatience. If they have a particular word tied to what they experience, labeling their emotion or reaction, then their ears perk up and tune in when they hear it taught.
When children are very little, maybe age 9 months to age 4, we spend time as situations arise helping them learn to use their words to ask for what they need. Any young child's initial reaction is to grab something they want or to scream from displeasure. We do not allow these reactions, but rather tell them, "No-no, you need to use your words [or sign language to say 'please' if they do not yet have words]", and then we tell them simple words to say. Such as, "May I have a turn with that?" (and then of course they need to wait for a turn even if it's just 2 minutes with a timer set); or "Please don't take those" if they're using something that a sibling is wanting for themselves.
Now I don't mean to sound over simplistic. It takes kids a while to learn these things. But we start very young and stay consistent, and the children develop great skills over time. It's not always "up hill" in the sense that they always make forward progress without any regression. It's more like two steps forward and one step back all the time. *smile* But they will get it. And they'll learn to be productive adults, cooperative, communicative, self-disciplined (at least in this area), kind, etc.
You may have seen this before but I just love it. It's a great example of a toddler's thinking process, which then helps us to choose our own reactions as parents in a way that makes sense to a toddler, and say things to them such as, "You may not take that toy just because you like it..."
(click to enlarge)
With middle-to-older children, when I do have to enter into a situation (around ages 5 and up) then I try to help the people involved to see my process towards solution. They each tell me their position, I do not let them chime in while the other is talking, and then I restate the problem in a nut shell, help them see some objective logic, then give them some solutions to choose from. Then I leave them to resolve the situation. It's not a lengthy process really, but as to-the-point as possible.
I have children both tell me what the problem is from their point of view, and I always ask a child who's been hit, for example, why their sibling hit them in the first place. All of a sudden they have to realize that they had provoked or hit first, and the fact is (usually) that the second sibling just retaliated by hitting back harder. *chuckle* And often times the one who was running to me says, with a face of realization, "I don't know...", and I say, "Maybe next time you should use your words rather than hitting someone." I sometimes when it's appropriate I let many of those situations go at that point because the action of hitting - both the initial hit, and the reactive hit - have both already had a natural consequence. They can see, "I hit her, she hit me and it hurt; next time I don't think I'll hit her." Of course this does not stop all hitting in the future, but they begin to learn to think, and they begin experiencing the consequences on their own. I'm always here to intervene when necessary, but I do not need to jump at every little squabble either.
Now just a little side note regarding public or private school vs. homeschooling. I know this is a touchy subject, but the truth needs to be pointed out and realized. If parents are sending their children out away from the home and out from under parental guidance and influence for the majority of 5 days a week or more, and away from the safety and like-mindedness of their siblings, then strategies such as these are likely to not work. For the simple reason that they are receiving from the public or private school environment FAR more negative influence in the ways that relationships work from their peers. The relationship strategies and order of authority taught at home is not what their same-aged peers in the schools will teach them I can guarantee you that. I know. I was a public or private schooled child my entire life (my parents learned about homeschooling and taught my little siblings starting when I was 18-years-old, so I saw both worlds) and I was a public school teacher before we had our own children.
So. *smile* It would be nice to have guaranteed success for our daily efforts...or even daily "fruit" for our efforts that we could see tangibly. But with patience it will come. And it can bring such joy to your heart and such sweetness between siblings. I encourage you to teach the difference between tattling and informing, to not allow children to parent each other, to set up proactive situations at home rather than reactive ones, and to instruct siblings in the art of conflict resolution.
Blessings on your parenting efforts,
You might enjoy some of my other related posts:
"Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching, and Appreciating Boys" - A Book Review
Character Training For Children