“THE PARENT MINUTE”
Simple Changes for Big Results
School’s out and the neighborhood kids have chosen your home as the “cool” place to hang out. Great, eh? After all, friends do play a big part of our kids’ happiness and well-being, and one of the best ways to instill happy home memories (as well as keep an eye-out for who your child is hanging around) is by making your house “kid friendly.” But you know the reality: Whenever kids get together, blissful, happy times are not always the outcome. Those giggles and gleeful sounds of merriment we all hope for, all too quickly turn into those unnerving noises of yelling, tattling, and arguing. Ah the squelched dreams of a blissful summer spent with the kids.
If you’re at your wits end from hearing kid-battles and are tired of refereeing or playing “negotiator,” have faith. There really is a way to curb kid bickering, tattling, and tears, and save your sanity. You really need to do two things to make the summertime fun for both the kids and you. The first is to take a little time to plan how to make your house kid friendly and the second is teach kids a few skills that will help them get along and reduce the bickering. Here are a few tips from my book, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me (April 2005, Wiley) that might help you survive these hot summer months, but also teach your kids how to get along, tattle less, and solve their problems without you. The result: happier kids, more peaceful homes, and a saner you. What could be better?
- Enforce a “No Tattling” rule. What kid wants to be around a pal who always wants to snitch? Arguments and tears are inevitable outcomes, so nix tattling, pronto. The best way to extinguish it is to lay down one law in your home: unless the report is intended to keep the accused out of trouble or harm you won’t listen. The rule could be as simple as: “Is this helpful or unhelpful news?” And then consistently enforce the policy every time your kid – or his friends — tattles.
- Buy an egg timer. A frequent reason for bickering is when one kid dominates others or doesn’t allow the same time on a task. So teach your kids to use an egg timer (or other concrete time keeper) to make things fair. Oven timers, egg timers, sand timers are great gadgets for younger kids to use. Older kids can use clocks or stopwatches. They first must agree on a set amount of time—usually only a few minutes—for using an item. When the time’s up, their turn is over. And everyone stays happy (including you).
- Put away the good stuff. There are certain possessions that are very special to your child—as well as to other family members. So put those items away before a guest arrives. It actually minimizes potential conflicts. Then say, “Anything you leave out are things you have to share.”
- Teach decision-makers. Rock, paper, scissors; drawing straws; picking a number; flipping a coin—these are old-time favorites that come in handy when kids can’t decide on rules, who gets to choose what to do, or who goes first. Teach them to your children so they can use them with their pals to help reduce those squabbles on their own.
- Create activity bins. To minimize conflicts (and those “there’s nothing to do” complaints), create a few “activity bins” (baskets, boxes, or plastic bins) stocked with a few toys and age-appropriate activities. Contents for younger kids might include: Legos, Play-Doh, or clay and cookie cutters, bubble blowers, toy cars or dolls. Older kids’ bins can have art supplies and paper, a craft set, and a pack of cards. These are great to help kids unwind or give them quieter play moments even away from one another. You might also want to have tucked away for those “just-in-case-when all else fails” parental sanity savers such a brand new video, coloring or comic books. Plop the kids down, hand them a comic book, and give yourself a five-minute breather.
- Call for time-outs. Even a few seconds can be enough to stop a big quarrel, so help your child come up with a few things he can say to back off from an argument ready to blow. “You know I’m too mad to talk right now.” “Give me a minute to cool off,” “I need to take a walk,” or “Let’s go shoot some hoops.” Then help him practice the phrase so he can use it with friends.
- Forget odd numbers. There’s truth to that old saying: “Two’s company, but three’s a crowd.” An even number of kids playing together usually is better than an odd number, simply because there’s less likelihood that one kid will be left out. So if bickering continues with certain kid combinations, set a rule for “pairs” only—and refrain from a three-some.
- Teach conflict solving. Of course, the best way to stop kids from arguing is to teach them how to solve problems themselves. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming your kids know how to do so. Here are the four steps to conflict solving you can teach your child: 1. Stop and calm down. You’ll never solve a problem when you’re upset, so take a time out until you’re in control. 2. Take turns saying what’s bugging you. No interrupting, name-calling, or blaming. 3. Brainstorm solutions then agree to a fair solution that feels best to both of you. 4. Do it. Now just keep reviewing those four steps over and over with your child until he can do them alone.
- Keep out of it. If you hear an argument brewing, stay within earshot, but jump in only when emotions are too high but before an argument escalates. A gentle reminder might be called for, such as a private, previously agreed-on signal (like tugging on your ear). With younger kids you might say, “I see two angry kids who need to cool down. You go to the other room, and you to the kitchen until the two of you can talk calmly and work things out.” Too much adult interference not only makes kids depend on you to solve their problems, but can actually escalate the squabble.
Of course, if all else fails and there’s still no peace, buy yourself a traffic light and put it in your window. It’s exactly what one mom told me she finally resorted to doing to try to buy herself a few hours of peace. Her house had become “Grand Central Station” one summer, though she wasn’t complaining. She loved that her kids’ friends were always at her home. It’s just that she didn’t appreciate kids showing up at the crack of dawn or three hours after the sun went down. Her solution: she set the traffic light in her front window and every kid in town knew the signal. If the red light was on it meant one thing: “We’re tucked in for the night and we’ll see you tomorrow.” The signal worked like a charm (and the mom swore that the green light was turned on most of the time).