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How Do I Teach My Children to Respect Each Other?

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If you have more than one child, there undoubtedly some sibling fighting going on in the home. First of all, you want to set an absolute safety-first ground rule. In other words, we do not touch each other in anger in this house. You need to be specific - that means hitting, pinching, biting, slapping, spitting or hitting with something. You need to be clear because when kids get really wound up, sometimes they will hit or kick or slap. We want to make it clear that it is not going to happen.

The other thing is we should set a zero tolerance policy in our homes for name-calling among our children. Nicknames are okay as long as mom and dad are good with them. The names we gave you are okay. Any other names are not so okay. Then you set up consequences for kids when they choose to be unkind with each other, to hit or to name call. Parents will say this is difficult because the kids are fighting and all you know is they are fighting. You will hear the "She started it," "No, he started it" kind of argument.

If that happens, you want to very calmly call a timeout for everyone including you. Take a few minutes to cool off and a nice consequence then would be some kind of a chore that the kids need to do together cooperatively. What you are trying to accomplish is for them to be nice to each other, to figure out how to cooperate on something and to complete that chore so that they also can make up with each other. If you know that one of your children did in fact do the name calling or the hitting, whatever it is such as taking her sister's shirt without asking permission, then we really need to teach kids how to make an apology. They need to look at the person, to say what they are sorry for and sound sincere when they are saying it and to offer to make it up to the person and ask for forgiveness.

Then we want to teach the child receiving the apology to be able to say "Okay” or "I forgive you," and to come up with something for making amends that isn't too awful. We don't want to go the direction of, "You took my shirt without asking so now you do my laundry for five years." You want to help them do that so they understand that when you hurt somebody's feelings you do make an apology.

Kids are becoming increasingly sensitive to the bullying issue in school and out on the playground and in community groups they're in and this is a good thing. It's also important to teach our kids that those same anti-bullying rules apply in our house. The old saying, "Charity begins at home," is really true. When you're calm, you let them know what your expectations are and you teach it when they are not being kind to each other. The flip side of that is when they are cooperating and helping each other or When you hear them give a compliment or ask permission to borrow something. Please notice that and tell them how much you appreciate them and what a great job they are doing of getting along. We want to make sure we don't just talk to our kids when they're fighting with each other. We want to notice when it's going well.