1. Have a family meeting to address the problem together. Plan to do this at a neutral time when you're all feeling relatively relaxed. Find a comfortable spot, serve a snack, and make it cozy. But before you start, do a short prayer or meditation yourself. Ask for guidance and grounding. Envision what a more peaceful home could look like. Suspend disbelief, and allow yourself to be guided by the possibility that your vision can be manifested.
When you sit down with your children, start by appealing to their hearts and spirits. Let them know how much you love and cherish them. Tell them how important it is to create a more peaceful home together. Let your children know how hard it is to watch people you love hurting each other.
2. Ask your kids to talk about what motivates their fights. I remember doing this with my own boys when they were about 7 and 10, and I still remember their words. My older son, Michael said he felt like I treated his brother Tim like my special little baby. The hurt beneath his words was evident. Tim, on the other hand, felt that Michael was always bossing him around and putting him down.
I took a deep breath and then empathized with each of them, trying hard not to argue with their perceptions. We talked about what could be done to prevent fights and ways they could cool off when they got angry. It was a turning point and the beginning of the manifestation of my vision-a fight-free home.
3. Listen to your children's needs. Hear them out. Listen to the need underneath their fights-jealousy, frustration, misplaced anger, feeling left out, boredom, habit? Listen with an open heart and try to understand. Dip into that place of spirit that will enable you to discern if there is something you you might be doing that triggers your children's fights. In my case, I needed to understand that even though Michael was the oldest, he still wanted to feel like my little baby sometimes. And with Tim I had to accept my tendency to be too protective. This imbalance, in part, fueled their conflicts.
4. Validate the feelings your child expresses. Even if you disagree, remember that your child has the right to feel what he feels. By empathizing, we relieve some of the pressure that leads to fights. We show our children that we really do want to understand how they feel. Validating touches into their place of spirit, making them feel valued, heard...known.
6. Catch your children in the act of working out problems and affirm them. Each time you see your kids cooling off, compromising, and communicating, let them know how very proud you are. Ask how they feel when they choose to work out a problem rather than fight. This further reinforces the good choice they've made and helps elevate the image they hold of themselves.
7. Teach empathy. If one child hurts the other, point out the ramifications
of his actions by asking the following questions:
Also, let your child know how you felt when you saw the fighting or hurting take place, and use an "I" message to do it. For example: "When I saw you hit your brother I felt really bad. It bothers me a lot to see someone I love being hurt, and to know that someone else I love made the hurt happen." In doing this regularly you deepen their well of compassion.
8. Spend 15-20 minutes a day of sacred time with each child. This is a time when you give your full attention individually and without interruption. Alternate with your partner if you can, or if you're a single parent, alternate nights with each child. If you have more than two children and they're old enough, have them occupy each other when you're with a sibling. Speak to their highest selves and ask for their help, reminding them that they will each get a turn in time.
Creating this ritual gives each child a message that they are singularly important and that the time you spend with them is truly sacred. This alone, can help prevent fights.
10. Limit intake of violent TV shows, videos, and computer games. The University of Michigan just released the results of a long-term study that documents the link between screen violence and aggressiveness in children. Children who see violent acts regularly become inured to it. And now with the preponderance of so much media violence, we need to be particularly vigilant about what we allow our children to watch. The sacredness of our homes is diminished each time violent images intrude.
11. If a physical fight occurs, take immediate action. Do not try to determine who started it, but let your children know unequivocally that fighting is not acceptable. Give each child a time-out in a separate spot. After they have had the chance to cool off, talk to each one individually. Hear them out and try to understand what motivated their actions while clearly emphasizing that physical fighting is absolutely not allowed in your home. Talk about alternatives they could have chosen. Make a plan for next time.
12. If fighting continues, ask yourself the following questions:
If you've tried everything suggested here and your children are still fighting, consider family counseling. Better to address the issue now than wait for it to escalate.
With mindfulness, determination, and a vision beyond what already exists, you have the power to end fighting in your home. The highest purpose of every family is to seek ways to live together in peace. As Gandhi once said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."