Even before we got married, Vicki, Joe and I began to read several parenting and relationship books. It is amazing how often people start a new life of marriage and raising kids, never reading books about either. Unfortunately there is no training manual that comes with children. There is certainly the “trial and error” method, and with 24 children we have definitely brought that method into our parenting experience!
Many people have asked us how we live with so many children in the home and still maintain a level of peace and calm. Following are some ideas we have instituted in our family for raising children. Not that we have it all figured out, because it is still a work in progress. But hopefully by relating our experiences we can support families and parents everywhere that are trying to do the best they can.
One very influential book we read was Parent Effectiveness Training, or P.E.T., by Dr. Thomas Gordon. It remains a classic text with communication principles that have been replicated in many other programs. We feel respect, communication and trust are the three cornerstone values in our family, and they are often interrelated in their use. One of the principles of communication we learned in P.E.T. is that of “I” messages. This simple form of communication is important, not only in relationships, but essential in raising children.
We start early with our children teaching them to express their feelings. Krista, our two year old, is already saying her emotions, “I am scared,” or “I am sad.” Emotional maturity comes with identifying your own emotions and being able to express them.
Using “I” messages we train our children, mostly from example, to explain how the actions of others make them feel, which can be an effective way to resolve conflicts. For example, try posting this sentence on the refrigerator: “I feel _____ when _____.” If a family member has a concern, they can say it aloud, filling in the blanks. As an adult using this method, you might tell your child, “I feel frustrated when I work hard to cook a meal and the dishes are left dirty ” instead of, “Your chores are not done, go do it now.”
Learning to communicate effectively takes practice, give “I” messages a try. When parents use “I” messages it endears trust because children don’t feel attacked. It also endears respect because they can understand how the parent feels, separate from their actions. These messages take away the need to use power or authority as adults and instead respect children as individuals, which helps take away the conflict.
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Another great way to help resolve conflicts when a disagreement crops up (“You always get the shower first!”), is to have each family member involved write their ideal resolution on a slip of paper. Arrange the resolutions at opposite ends. Then, each person should write down several alternative solutions that are less than ideal. Lay the suggestions between the two extremes, and select the one that best fits both sides. For example, the person who leaves for school earliest showers first on weekdays and last on weekends. Encourage them to hang the schedule on the bathroom door.
The point is to help navigate a win-win solution, instead of viewing the world as a win-lose scenario. Families are about looking out for the whole, while finding ways each of the needs of an individual can be recognized and valued.
By looking for win-win solutions to disagreements, we give our children great skills for long lasting relationships based upon mutual respect, healthy conflict resolution, and problem solving. Having these tools will leave them feeling much better about themselves and the world around them.
In the months to come we will continue to share our experiences, good and bad in raising children. Please share your stories, tips, and questions with us as well. Parenting is the most challenging but rewarding job we will ever do.