8 “Fights” To Pick With Your Kids (Episode 306)
As a parent, it's a given that it can be helpful to pick your battles. Fighting with your toddler over sock colors or your teen over every food they put into their mouths not only can be a losing battle but just so not worth the time and energy. Putting that time and energy toward a positive connection can get you so much further. Yet fights with kids seem to be the MO for many families, as they brace for one battle after another.
Part of flexibility and adaptability is learning how to "chameleon" with others in a way where you don't lose yourself; you simply focus on the things that connect vs. divide you.
So what IS worth fighting for? As I was scrolling through my FaceBook feed a while back, I saw a post that was a viral Twitter thread from David Morris. It was titled, "8 Fights Worth Picking With Your Kids".
Maybe this is a battle in your home of really begging your kids to read. I know in our household, my reading agenda sure didn't go as planned.
I was the kid who started reading at 4 and devoured books so fast my mother stopped buying them for me and just dropped me off at the bookstore for a while. By 4th grade, I was reading at an adult level and always had my nose in a book, especially in the car!
Then along come my wonderful daughters, all of whom apparently had an aversion to picking up a book!
I begged, pleaded, demanded, and forced reading. And we learned that, although we do believe reading is critical, it's pretty hard to demand something we ourselves never made time for.
The biggest thing that got my kids reading? Making space not only for them to read, but for me to model it by example. Our kids are little mirrors. And oh the irony that I was getting frustrated with my children for wanting to hop on a screen first thing in the morning instead of reading, while I was standing there holding my phone to check the news and weather myself.
When it came to reading, the door was always open to read. And yes, I read everything out loud, and we worked with our girls to understand the bigger picture of the amazing stories they could get lost in. The older they got, the more it became inconvenient to not be able to read and to ask parents about everything. In their desire for independence, that drive to learn this skill got a little stronger.
And yet - the biggest catalyst to reading came not from force, but from example. Nathan and I shifted one thing. I stopped talking about how I loved reading before children and started reading again. We set the hours of 7-8 am as the sacred reading time in our home - screen-free time with a cup of tea and a book. And as I added this beautiful ritual into my own routine, I saw my little mini-me's mirroring the exact same thing. No longer was it a battle to force reading when they saw it as joining in for some peaceful solitude alongside their parents.
So, instead of a reading "fight", next time you want your child to pick up a book, model it by your actions vs. telling them to do it. See what a shift it makes.
#2 Get Outside
Again, are you just kicking your kids outside so they are out of your hair for a while? Have you equipped them with any ideas or insights into what awaits them outdoors? Do they know their limits and have confidence in what they are capable of?
Before you just throw your children outside, recognize they are going to respond to it oftentimes in a similar way you do. If you hate bugs and never put your feet in the grass, don't get mad when your child also wants to stay indoors and wear shoes all the time. If you don't see and appreciate nature, don't identify things in nature, and don't have any relationship with it, your kids are likely to follow suit.
Get outside. WITH your kids. Go for hikes, play tag, and sit in the sunshine. When you are open to discovery, wonder, and finding your peace and joy outside, your children see by example how to appreciate it themselves.
#3 Work Ethic
Ah, work ethic. While I love to "let kids be kids", that means I support kids using their imagination, living in the moment, and being open to discovery. It does not mean to let kids wreak havoc in our lives and get away with it.
There is a good chance that your kids will live with others in their lifetime. A significant other, a roommate...
Instead of me coming into our home and saying, "I am the parent, you are the child, do this." I say, "Hey, do we want to grow up and be healthy, functioning adults?" (Yes!) Okay.
Then learn how to be a good roommate. Being a good roommate means picking up after yourself. And when you leave a mess for somebody else in the kitchen and you're a roommate or a partner as opposed to being a child in the home, it's not going to go over very well.
So we're going to equip our kids with the tools now to be good roommates/partners/friends so they are a positive contributing factor in our household and helping to create the home environment that we all love to come home to.
Sometimes parental roles aren't really equal, and one partner holds up more than the other on the aspect of being a good roommate. Your kids are paying attention to that. They notice who steps up for what.
If you're not working as a team and you're both not jumping in there to help each other, you can end up with "turf wars" of frustration and unmet expectations. It's easy to let entitlement slip in where it's just expected that someone else will pick up the slack. We see this all the time in families, where the wife does all the laundry and it's assumed there should always be clean clothes without anyone else's support, or the husband is just expected to keep the yard looking perfect without anyone else lifting a finger. Or maybe it's the children just assuming their only role at dinner time is to eat (or complain about) the food - and the dishes miraculously get cleaned up afterward without their help.
Let me tell you, resentment will kick in. A huge part of it is simply due to not recognizing the impact you make on another. That mama's resentment builds with the number of wadded-up socks and things left in pockets since no one else really sees what happens with laundry day. The father no longer wants ANY outside toys because he's running over them with the lawnmower; no one else paying attention to when it's time to mow. And the kids building up to all levels of obnoxious demanding your attention and entertainment amidst a disastrous kitchen, because it's not up to them to clean it up.
How can we make this a home we want to live in together? When we assign roles and responsibilities to our kids (and ourselves), we're really quick to say, "We're assigning you a role so that you have a job to do. We are not assigning you a role for you to stand on your pedestal, say this is the only thing you're going to do, and tell everybody else what to do. That's not working as a team."
We're not competitors in our home. We're co-creating to build an environment that encompasses our family vision: Explore, Respect, Listen, Connect, Learn & Love.
There are many times in life when you'll need a team to accomplish the goals you set - both personally and professionally. And the family is the first place for them to get an opportunity to learn how to work together with others for the common good as a whole.
#4 No Food Battles
One of the things we have done in our home since the beginning is enlisting the "no thank you bite" concept at mealtimes.
We started when they were very young where we basically gave them lots of love and support, yet, we stood firm on anything new until they had first experienced it/tried it to form an educated opinion. An easy place to do this is at the dinner table.
Our kids learned at a very young age that, while we value their insights, we listen to those opinions that have been formed only AFTER they've learned about something. So saying "I hate green beans" while never having tried them just doesn't cut it.
We employed "no thank you bites" at mealtimes to simply try new foods. Not only that, we all learned about how our taste buds can change every 5-7 years, so even those foods we form an opinion on can still be subject to change. So taking in these "no thank-you bites" also include us adults, and being willing to just give things a try if we've never tasted it before, or if it's been a while.
This concept goes beyond the dinner table to our approach to life and not forming uneducated opinions on things. It's opened the door for our kids to try new (and possibly "scary") things - like our daughter being terrified of going out on the ice skating rink. I asked her to do one "no thank-you" round, and that was the end of that - she didn't want to leave it and had a blast!
Help them to understand that before you can have a concrete opinion on what you believe in or what you think, you have to have educated yourself. And so when it comes to food, don't tell me you don't like something when you haven't tried it.
What a valuable lesson to share with our kids. To be willing to step outside our own comfort zones and try new things to learn new insights. Have some grace for growth and be willing to continue to learn about your opinions vs. making them permanent and concrete.
Side Note: Family Meals
Another "battle" to have with your kids around food is simply sitting down for family mealtime. For lots of families, this is the time to connect, and it can be a huge deal to prioritize family meals. For other families, mealtimes may be more of a rush, but regular commutes - to school, to extracurricular activities, etc - become the best times to connect. In our home, we're together pretty much 24/7, so we don't always demand everyone sit down together at a dinner table. However, we hold our morning times as a sacred zone, as well as around dinner time when we all tend to stop and chill together.
The key is the focus on connection. Over the family meal, in the car, in the wee hours of the morning - when is your time that is screen-free, void of other distractions, and really valuable time for conversation and connection with your family? Are you fostering this on a regular basis? I remember in my home growing up time in the car was always prime conversation time with music always being second-fiddle to interaction with each other.
If you can't make it happen daily, at least find a weekly check-in time. It's easy to isolate ourselves into our own lanes and simply be passing in the wind if we don't make the times to touch base with each other. And it's a great way to breed resentment if people aren't checking in with one another and hearing about the intentions and desires vs. simply what actions and reactions are going on in the home.
It's a lot easier to stay on the same page when we're checking in constantly. That's why, in business, you often have regular meetings to check in and make sure all members are on the same page and communicating. We got to do the same thing with our household.
We often spend way more time checking in with people that we will never speak to again if we ever leave that company and yet we don't do this with the people that we love underneath our own roof.
#5 Invite Boredom In
Ah boredom - that wonderful opportunity to create and innovate! Nothing can feel more like fingers on a chalkboard than hearing, "Mommy, I'm booooooored." Once again, I'll share this handy little acronym:
Boredom is a valuable skill set - what are you going to do with it? Are you able to move through boredom to potentially learn and grow, or are you stuck in the victim mentality of simply being bored?
One of the best things that happened to us when our kids were young is our minivan speakers and DVD breaking. It flat wouldn't work anymore, and I dreaded what in the world would happen in the van without my crutch of entertainment.
What happened is, when there simply was no option, our kids started to innovate. They came up with their own fun in the car. I'm currently sitting in the car on another 8-hour travel day, and our kids are reading books in the back. Our travel days consist of conversation, listening to audiobooks and podcasts together, listening to music, reading, or simply looking outside at the beautiful views out our windows that the girls missed when they were glued to a movie screen.
It's amazing what things we all have come up with under the guise of being "bored." Amazing innovations and creations occur when we have the space to sit with it for a bit.
#6 Make it "We" First
It may be cute and not a big deal when a two-year-old shoves their way to the front of the line and takes the biggest piece, yet that gets old really fast. Always letting our kids win, get the biggest piece, go first, and do the "fun" parts of a job or project...while it may get us some brownie points with the kids for the moment, we're doing them a disservice for their success with others later in life.
Is there supposed to be some switch that flips at some point to turn them from "me first" to be compassionate and aware of their impact on others? I vote that's part of our responsibility as parents to help them learn this.
Our children are lights in this world, just like we are - and it's our responsibility to help them learn how to illuminate best in a way that shows their light and reflects positively on others - not to overshadow everything else in their path.
When I tell my kids, you're not the center of the universe, I'm not trying to knock them down and say they're not worthy. I'm helping them to understand how critical their one piece of the puzzle is and how they can work and connect and collaborate with others and how we all become greater because of that. It's the synergy where the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.
And, as a parent, I want to give them a taste of disappointment. I want to experience it with them and help them find the tools to build up their emotional resilience.
I'm protective of my children's pain. Yes, I don't want them to hurt. And if I can give them a little dose that gives them a tool to then handle it better when I'm not around, I'm going to do that.
This happened just this week. We drove 2 hours to hike the most epic bucket list hiking trip ever, and we finally arrive to find a park ranger at the front saying that there is a 40% chance of rain and we couldn't access the slot canyons.
And so we drove another 2 hours to drive back home. Disappointing? Yes. Did we look for the silver lining? Absolutely. We took a few smaller hikes that were amazing, and Clara ended up spotting a snake that had been on her bucket list to see in the wild. And, we went back and we did that slot canyon later. The reality is, that delay in us going allowed us more time to learn about it, and we appreciated it even more when it finally did manage to happen.
Look for those opportunities to roll with the punches, because disappointment is going to happen in your children's life. The more tools they have for their own emotional resilience, the better they're going to navigate it.
It's okay to not be 100% fair all the time. There's going to be a kid that sometimes gets the bigger piece. There's going to be a kid that gets pushed out of the way and gets moved to the back of the line. There's going to be a kid that sometimes is just forgotten at the moment because we are human and there are a lot of moving parts and different needs.
#7 Have Awkward Conversations
Next up is a nudge to keep having those awkward conversations. Talk about sex. Talk about dating, talk about body image. Talk about your values. Talk about your private parts. Talk about the family dynamics that are going on in a way that's not overloading or giving your child anything and everything.
You're not a textbook. You're not the gossip train. You're not trying to do all of that with your children. You're opening the door to the fact that you are an open door for conversation.
I want to be the one to influence them as much as possible in the direction of their life. They are writing their own stories and paving their own path - and the older they get, the less I get to direct that. And so I want an open door there where they feel comfortable to bring up any topic and ask any question, knowing I'll take them seriously and be open to the conversation, regardless of where it goes from there.
#8 Know Your Limits
When I talk about knowing your limitations, I mean you know how to put boundaries in your life to keep you flowing toward the positive. It's knowing your limits on how much you can tolerate, and what keeps you healthy - in mind, body, and soul.
It's recognizing and having the tools to keep addiction at bay - it's setting your limits on screen time, food, workaholism, and learning time management. And, it's learning how to navigate around toxic behavior and draw boundaries around the way people treat you.
Are you helping your children define their own boundaries so they can manage their lives?
As I said at the beginning, this isn't so much a fight with your kids where you're telling them what to do as it is a reminder that you are the nudge that will point them in the direction you go.
If your children struggle with time management, share with them the tools you are enlisting to keep yourself on track. If they struggle with food choices, you sitting down to a bag of chips and beer isn't really paving the way you want them to choose.
Figure out a way to have healthy limits that allow you to enjoy aspects of life without becoming a slave to those things or having those things start to own you.
And, beyond those external limits, it's also working to know yourself. Some kids that are trying to find their way will usually look at their peers and say, okay, well, which one of these am I the most like that I can emulate?
And we can end up with kids really struggling, like trying to get a fish to climb a tree or a duck to run a race and win. Sometimes we're bent in these certain ways that we do have limitations in some ways, but we have terrific strengths in others.
Can you help your child understand their strengths, and how they can blend them with others to really thrive? What a beautiful gift to give our kids - confidence in the strengths they do have vs. focusing on where they struggle.
Instead of looking at these as fights with your kids in your home, I'm going to start with this being a challenge to you.
How are you emulating what you want to nudge your children toward in each of these arenas?
Look at this list - what are you fighting with your kids over that may very well be due to your walk not aligning with your talk?
- Getting outside
- Showing a positive work ethic in your home
- Showing up for each other as a family and being willing to try new things
- Navigating boredom
- Recognizing the world doesn't revolve around one person - how do you contribute?
- Being open to awkward conversations
- Knowing how to set boundaries and limitations in your home so that you can thrive even more because of it
You do pick your battles for what you want to navigate in your home, and that might first just be a battle with yourself.
It may be figuring out time management so the value of reading is added into your own life, not just your child's. Or opening the door to the great outdoors and discovering aspects of nature you may have never noticed before. Maybe it's working on your own goals and desires to emulate the passion and drive you want to see in your kids.
Step into being what you want your child to emulate - they're going to do it anyway. And while they may have different strengths, you are all working for those tools to really see how you can stand in your awesome and connect with others so that the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.