Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our Family Needs Martial Law!

A question by a parent was asked:

My children, ages 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1, have absolutely no sense of how to work together. I'll have the older two work on dishes/cleaning the kitchen together, and all they do is argue and sometimes it gets so bad that one of them starts kicking things, stomping around the house, etc. Each of my children are only concerned with what they want, when they want it, and how they think it should be. We can't run a family this way and my husband and I are at a loss as to how to fix it other than instituting "martial law" which only works for as long as it's in effect and then they go right back to the original problems.

For example, as I was writing this my 2 year old threw a 2x4 scrap of wood at her 4 year old brother because they were arguing about who got to play with a toy car (we're in the middle of a huge house project, which I know has just increased the intensity of the problems, but we already had these problems -- daily! -- before the project).
The only way to fix these problems is either "martial law" or I have to be entirely focused on nothing but the kids, literally every second. The second my attention is taken away from them (even to load the dishwasher) everything starts up again. What can I do????
A little background:We homeschool all of them. We live in a working-poor neighborhood with a crime problem so if they're outside they have to stay within the confines of our yard. My sister-in-law's children are very self-sufficient, to the point that she can be upstairs for hours working and they will watch each other, follow the rules, etc. With my children, if they are not under
constant supervision they steal candy, fight about toys, refuse to do their chores, refuse to play, but constantly say they're bored, etc. We have tried to give them more latitude with what they can do...if my oldest wants to paint, I say "okay" rather than "not now". So, we've gotten better with that, but I don't feel I can say "okay" if he's refused to do his chores first.If it's not what they want to do, they don't do it without a fight :(

Here was my answer:

I'd see where the current fights are happening. Fighting over candy? Remove candy from the house. Fighting over a toy? That toy gets thrown away (or donated, but I wouldn't tell them that, so they do not see donation as a bad thing). Basically, if they do not respect something they cannot have it.

It also sounds like there is a big concern over chores. I am personally very anti-chores. I feel like it is fair for everyone to take responsibility for there own mess, but it is unfair to make people clean up after others. Of course, there are things that must be done by only one person (like taking out the family's trash, mowing, etc), but you can make a list of these in a family meeting and see who volunteers for which task, or if no one does you can make a schedule to rotate those. But as far as dishes, laundry, etc they can be responsible for their own. And-in my opinion, their room is their private space. If they want it messy, that is their business. If they cannot make you clean your room-you can't make them clean theirs. It is a good basic rule- any rules the children must abide by, the adults must abide by as well.

I'd probably start with a big family meeting and let them know that the house has not been peaceful and things need to change. Ask for their opinions on how they think it should change, and of course you and your partner give your opinions as well. No one is permitted to poo-poo anyone's ideas (this includes you-you are not permitted to shoot down ideas during the brainstorming phase, if they say go to DisneyWorld everyday, you write it down seriously). Then you can talk, as a family, about what ideas will work for your family and which will not. Then make a family plan. Meet every week thereafter to tweak the plan as things work out or don't, and to discuss any new problems that have come up.

In addition, when children are feeling squirrelly, it is generally because some need that is not being met. It will take a lot of observation, but try to see what that is for each of your children. When are they working together nicely and cooperatively? When are they fighting? Try to make more space in your lives where the cooperative work is occurring, and less of the times when the fighting is occurring. Put yourself in their shoes. If you didn't feel like doing XYZ and were being made to you'd be in a bad mood. Then have someone push against you (even accidentally), it is going to lead to a volatile situation.

I'd also advise just getting them outside for unstructured time. Dishes can wait, laundry can wait. Meeting there current physical and emotional needs (which many studies show that being in nature fills that need) will cure many of these ills.

I hope this helps any of those out there struggling with the same problems!