Conflict Management for Pent-Up Days

How to Manage a Houseful of Pent-Up Kids

What can you do when it’s cold and dreary outside and you and your kids are cooped up inside? Everyone’s on edge, the kids are squabbling, and you’re ready to scream? With a clear plan in place, you can head off winter’s gloom and be ready to face each day until spring.

Winter where I live is usually fairly mild, so if we are “lucky” enough to get a snow day, I can hardly keep my kids inside. In fact, snow is such a rare occurrence for us that our local schools shut down if there’s even a chance of any sticking to the ground at all, creating a spontaneous holiday for everyone. (I have lived in parts of the country where it stays frozen for months, so before you throw a snowball my way, allow me to share some encouragement with you.)

We do, however, have our share of icky days where I just can’t force the kids to go outside and freeze their faces off for long. The dreaded b-word soon rears its ugly head, and inevitably I hear it, “I’m so bored.” Seriously? You have a gazillion books, movies, and toys, the LEGOs are multiplying like Tribbles, and you’re bored? Has Minecraft closed?

Not only is “boredom” a means to drive parents crazy, but it often leads to sibling conflict and family stress.

Why is it that a snow day can be so much fun, when there’s really nothing to do other than play in the snow, but a day at home with a houseful of stuff can take such an awful turn?

Here’s my theory.

In our case, a rare snow day is like a surprise extra holiday. It’s new, fresh, and festive. The neighbor kids are out-and-about, and the world outside has become a wonderland. Kids are thrilled to bundle up, run, play, throw snowballs, build a snowman, and come back inside for hot chocolate and a movie while their mittens dry. The day swoops by, and before we know it, it’s over.

On the other hand, in the middle of winter, after days upon days of cold, bleak weather, the scenery never changes, the kids have been still for too long, and they are tired of the same old same old.

Conflict Management Strategies for Pent-Up Days with Kids parenting

Strategies for dealing with conflict

-First of all, take a time out for yourself. Take a break, keep a book or hobby project at the ready, and spend even a few minutes each day doing something you enjoy. Your kids will see, and you will feel more refreshed. Have an optimistic attitude, and encourage your kids to look at life as the glass half full. A little switch in your thinking goes a long way toward contentment.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad (Proverbs 12:25).

Remember to be engaged with your kids and be willing to set your phone or laptop aside and give them your full attention sometimes.

-Set clear behavioral expectations. As the parent, I set the tone for the atmosphere in my home. I like things to be peaceful and stress-free. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always quiet; nor do I want it to be. But, I choose not to tolerate noisy conflict. My ground rules are established up front from the day my kids are old enough to understand them. You’ve heard the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?”

Start with a mission statement for your home, and clearly define rules and expectations. Phrase them positively with action words, instead of a bunch of “don’ts.” You can even post a list on the fridge:

  1. Use kind words.
  2. Keep your hands to yourself.
  3. Use “inside” voices.
  4. etc.

-Set limits for conflict. Teach kids creative problem-solving skills and to observe the Golden Rule. If my kids’ behavior gets annoying, they know they’ll have to take it to another room, or even outside. I let them try to work out minor squabbles on their own most of the time. If things go on too long or escalate to the danger point, then I step in.

Acknowledge good behavior and offer positive reinforcement. Catch kids being good, and ignore negative behavior whenever it is feasible to do so. Oftentimes, negative behavior is just a cry for attention. Once kids realize that they won’t gain anything from it, they are more likely to think before they go over to the dark side.

Show kids appropriate ways of dealing with conflict. It is okay to disagree. Don’t dismiss their feelings, but teach them how to respond appropriately. Hitting is not okay. Name calling is not okay. Saying, “I don’t want to share that right now,” or “I don’t feel like doing that,” is okay. Model to your kids how they should deal with arguments. How do you treat the sales clerk at the returns desk?

Teach kids that words can do damage. Family ties are so important that you wouldn’t want to say or do anything that could do long-term harm to those relationships. As adults, we can look back and see how little things from our childhood still impact us. Help your kids protect their friendships with their siblings.

-Active kids are happy kids. Get everyone outside—even for a little while—if at all possible. Take a walk, send kids on a nature scavenger hunt, shoot some hoops, jump rope, etc. If you cannot go outside, there are a slew of indoor activities you can do. Set up a balloon obstacle course, play follow the leader, do calisthenics, play charades. Turn on some music and dance! (Look for more ideas inside this issue.)

-Get everyone involved in a team project. Cooperation and working together on a mutual goal really gets my boys focused. Ideas include art projects, crafts, cooking, building with blocks, “racing” to see who can put the last piece in a puzzle. Do something to help others, like making cards to deliver to a nursing home. Or simply gather everyone around and spend some time reading aloud.

Rotate toys and games. This sounds really simple, but it works. Put some toys, games, art projects, puzzles, etc. away for a rainy (snowy) day. They will seem new and exciting.

Feed them. Hungry kids are grouchy kids. Can I get a witness?

Some advance planning goes a long way toward heading off winter angst. Remind yourself and your kids to embrace each other’s differences, remembering that our uniqueness is a gift. Allow kids to be themselves without judgment and stress that home is a safe place. Everyone is expected to show each other respect and kindness, and together, we can survive until that first daffodil emerges.

This article appeared in Family Magazine 2015, Issue 1.

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Comments (8)

  1. Jill Robbins

    This is something I was thinking about just the other day…to get prepared for the squabbling that will come during the Christmas break when everyone is home. I was trying to think of things to do to get ahead of it. Like you, we’re in a pretty mild climate so luckily, outside is usually an option. I like your ideas! And yes – hungry = grouchy!

  2. Amy Boyington

    Sounds like my preschool classroom every day 🙂 Very good strategies for minimizing conflict and creating a more productive day!

  3. Scarlet

    You did a great job here of going into depth on the issues. Ways to prevent conflict and to manage it. Great suggestions!

  4. Nicky

    These are all great tips. Modeling appropriate skills and behaviors goes a long way with children. Teaching them that words can do damage is so important. In this digital age, the importance words carry is often lost and children should be reminded of that.

  5. C. Lee Reed

    I love that you let them continue their conflict if needed in a separate part of the house or outside. Its always hard for me not to try to resolve it. I think your way would let the kids learn to figure it out themselves.

  6. Andrea

    These are great tips! My kiddos are 5 years apart, and the youngest is still a baby, but I am sure I will be dealing with this before too long. It’s great to have some tools in the bag ahead of time 🙂

  7. L. E. Mastilock

    So great that you included acknowledging good behavior. Praising good, makes anyone want to do more of it. I also like that you give them a chance to work it out on their own. I only step in if really needed. It hard not to want to stop the arguing immediately between siblings, but they learn so much by working it out together if given the chance. And they come running to tattle much less. I often say after a minor argument, “I don’t need to hear the details, just find a way to get along or I can find something for you both to do.” They know that will be work, so usually end up getting along or finding something to do separably for a while.

  8. Crystal @ Castle View Academy

    Great ideas! I like that you’ve started with taking a Mommy time out 🙂 I’ve been known to do that.
    As my children grow there has been a little more conflict, and so we’re working on ways to stay calm and talk it out. Some days it works, others not so much. It’s an ongoing process for life, isn’t it?


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