by Patricia Hughes
Years ago, I heard Bill Cosby say in a stand up comedy routine that parents don't care about fairness, they just want quiet. At the time, I had no children and it was just funny. Later, as a parent I saw it again and recognized it as a pearl of wisdom. All parents want a peaceful home.
I know all parents want peace because my children like to watch Nanny 911 and the lack of peace is a recurrent theme. This show taught me a valuable lesson, and not just that things aren't as bad in my home as they seem. Whatever the other issues in a family, a lack of peace is always at the core.
A few years ago, I was starting to struggle with sibling fighting, squabbling and yelling. The child not involved in the fight would end up turning up the TV or CD player in response to the noise. On some days, the noise level was out of control. It was destroying the peace in our family and affecting all of us. We'd find ourselves yelling in response to their fighting and it had a negative effect the parents and children.
Around that time I came across a book that caught my eye in Borders. The book is Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids: Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Naomi Drew. That book helped me realize that a peaceful family begins with me. If I wanted to change the dynamic in the house, it was possible. In this book, Drew discusses what she calls three essentials for peaceful parenting that I have used with our kids with success.
The first is to make the home a place of kind words. In our family, the sibling fighting often starts when one of the kids says something mean or puts down another child. That child responds with another insult. The fight soon escalates. To break this cycle, there should be a rule that no person puts down any other member of the family and the rule needs to be enforced.
The parents need to set the example here and watch for instances when we put down other people, use sarcasm and especially come down hard on ourselves. This sets the example in the home and escalates the problem of name calling.
This is an ongoing process and many reminders and discussions are needed, especially if the kids have been calling each other names and insulting each other for a while. Praise or reward systems can be used, if desired, such as a family movie night or making ice cream sundaes at the end of a good week.
The second thing I learned was a good reminder to use specific praise to help when trying to change behavior and create a more peaceful home. nothing kills the peace like criticism with no praise. There is a lot of controversy over using praise and some people feel praise can inhibit the development of intrinsic motivation.
This idea is certainly true for constant, empty praise, but when used sparingly, specific praise can help change behavior and make kids feel their efforts are appreciated. This is why teachers use the method in classroom situations. The key to using specific praise is to mean it, keep it specific and don't use it all the time.
The third key to peaceful parenting that we use is to spend some time each day with each individual child. Drew suggests at least fifteen or twenty minutes with each child, giving undivided attention. This can be tough for families with many children.
We have four and it really took some effort in the beginning. I soon learned to spend this time with our kids in ways that don't require dropping everything I am doing. One child may help me making meatballs or doing any of a number of activities. I take one child to the grocery store with me and alternate each week and do the same with other errands. Time chatting on the way to the store, during shopping and on the way home is relaxed and has resulted in some good conversations.
The way this has helped increase the peace in our family is by giving the kids time to be heard. This has ended the acting out for attention or shouting to be heard problems. They know they have time alone with us and time for family. The attention is also helpful for reducing feelings of sibling rivalry or feeling disconnected from the kids, both of which are not going to help the family experience peace.
Once I realized that a peaceful family begins with me, it changed how I looked at the discord in the family. Rather than getting annoyed with the kids for fighting or yelling, I began to look for ways I could head off the problems and make changes for the better.
Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.
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