Do you have kids who are always running to the car and saying: “I’m first!”? Or maybe they argue over who mom or dad reads to first at night? How about who gets to sit where at the dinner table? Or who does dad pour the catsup on French fries first? I know my boys would have a battle each time we got into an elevator over who gets to push the buttons. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? You might even say it “drains your energy” if you’re a Love and Logic parent.
In this podcast I want to help you turn that constant bickering into an opportunity for modeling cooperation and fairness. Ha! There’s no way that can happen in your house, you say? I challenge you to try a few of these tactics and get back to me and let me know if they worked for you and your family. I’ll bet you one hour of free coaching if I’m not right, otherwise, you leave me a nice review on this podcast. Deal? Deal.
First, determine a list of issues your kids are competing at. Some of you can probably do this off the top of your head the issues are so obvious but, if you need to, observe them for a few days and take notes till you have at least 3-4 things to talk about. Here is a list one parent sent me:
- Who showers first
- Who brushes their teeth first
- Who sits on the couch first and where they get to sit
Next, hold a Family Meeting at a time when there are no competitions going on, maybe after dinner or just ask everyone to come into the Family Room for a few minutes. There’s an entire podcast, #17 on how to run Family Meetings but here’s a brief review:
Step 1: Set the meeting – meaning the location and duration. The meeting will be really short for young ones 4 and under, 3-5 minutes, but for older kids it could be 15-20 minutes. Don’t make it too long! In this case, I’ll choose Sunday evening right after dinner.
Step 2: Start the meeting, list the issues
Have your list of competition challenges ready and ask for input of any others you might have missed. For this Sunday’s meeting let’s say we just work one issue, which seats the family sit in at dinner table. I have to chuckle, this sounds so simple, right? But I know there are plenty of petty issues like this that your kids fight about, right?
Step 3: Brainstorm
Take one example at a time and think about new ways to solve the problem. In our example of where to sit at the dinner table, have everyone come up with several ways to solve it. It could be a rotation every night or you could choose seats for a week at a time. You can talk about how to figure out who gets to choose first -- rock-paper-scissors or pulling numbers from a hat. All options! You could even throw in some silly ones like having a “no chair night” where you have a picnic on the floor once a week. Be creative, it’s way more fun and engaging!
Step 4: Select Ideas
Once you’ve brainstormed lots of ideas, go through a process to select which ones you’re going to try first. Be sure to keep the list of full ideas since this is the START of the process of selecting just the first one to try. In this step also make sure to decide how long the first trial will last – a day, a week, a month? I’m guessing that most families will probably try something for about a week when they first attempt to do this. In our example, let’s say we choose seats for one week at a time and choose by using numbers from a hat.
Step 5: Experiment
Now comes the fun part, whatever method was chosen, try it out for the agreed upon duration. In our case, the 4 of us pull numbers from a hat and we choose a seat for one whole week. As the week progresses, take notes on what different people think. If your kids are able, have them make a poster to put in the kitchen with each person’s name and a box under it with that person’s current positive, negative or neutral feedback. Feel free to use stickers or magnets so that people can change their minds throughout the week.
Step 6: Review & Revise
At this point you’re going to schedule a follow up Family Meeting where you formally review how your experiment worked. If the feedback is great, great! If it’s not, then you go back to the lists you came up with and see what other options you could try; you can even take in new feedback.
As you can tell, the important theme here is that it’s an experiment, it’s not set in stone. We often try something once and when it doesn’t work out, we give up. We want to model for our kids that life is all about evolving experiments that should eventually lead to acceptable solutions all around but that it takes work. You should model that the work is worth it!
In our chair example, let’s say Joe is happy but Michael isn’t. Mom and dad are fine anywhere so they are neutral. If someone isn’t happy, we’re going to look at the list. What can we modify about how we pick for the next week that can make Michael happy next week and get Joe to be at least neutral? Since Joe drew the best number from a hat last week, we decide that Michael will go first this week without choosing from a hat at all. We also decided that since dad is responsible for getting refills that he’ll have a permanent seat that’s closest to the counter so now we just rotate through 3 seats. I think you get the drift. We’ll try this new setup for another week and then meet up again for more feedback and review.
Step 7: Celebrate!
When you’re able to make headway on issues celebrate! Often in our busy lives we make progress and just keep bulldozing right on past a success. Take time. Make it fun! You don’t have to do it every time but sometimes it is really great for building a family culture that is productive, caring and enjoyable to be in. An ice cream party or trip to a fun place that everyone loves. Do something to show it was worth it!
Just to give you a flavor for the process, I’m going to tell you about one brave family with two little girls who are 4 and 2. The older one is really the competitive one and wants everything first but little sister at 2 isn’t going to just let big sister push her around. Sound familiar?
Dad is usually on duty in the mornings and those girls immediately start competing for dad’s attention – who gets their hair done first, who sits at the table first, who gets milk on their cereal first, you get the idea. The same sort of things happened at bedtime with brushing teeth, taking a bath, reading books, you name it.
Well, dad sat them down one morning for a 3-minute Family Meeting cause they’re young, to brainstorm what they could do. He proposed that one girl could go first in the morning and the other in the evening. Would that work for them? They then proceeded to pick which girl was the morning and which was the evening girl. Excellent! That morning went so smooth! The older daughter was first so she was really happy and the younger one was fine with it. Then came the evening and the older daughter wanted to be first at something. It only took at bit of calm and loving reminding from dad as to what the agreement was and she was ok. Yeah! Progress. This worked well for morning and evening for a week or more; however, they started competing so much for non-morning/evening issues that both mom and dad were at their wits end and felt like failures. Oh my!
After some encouragement they decided to hold that next Family Meeting to expand the morning/evening choices to encompass an experiment where each girl would be first all day for everything and then they’d rotate the next day for the other girl to be first. They were going to print out a calendar that the girls could color their days so they could always know who was first or second.
How did Round 2 go? Really well! Round 1 seemed hopeful but they really did need Round 2 in ways they couldn’t have predicted without the Round 1 experiment. This family recently had a Round 3 to figure out that they need to cross off the days on the calendar when they are done so that their younger daughter could visually see which day was which a little better. Yeah!
I hope and pray some of these ideas will help you tone down the competition level in your home. It does take extra time and effort to set things up sometimes but it’s that extra effort than can make all the difference.