Monday, July 1, 2013

All Rise! The Secret to Ending the Bickering

Today I want to introduce you to my friend, Jeannie Cotton! I actually saw her Facebook post on this and was so impressed with this method, especially because it is an upgrade from my "Calling a Conference" that I use with my kiddos. I thought my readers would love this, so I asked her if she would write a guest post for A 2nd Generation of Homeschooling. So, please welcome, Jeannie!
I want my kids to feel heard, but I don't want whiny tattle-tales making every little thing my problem. So, we have "Court." 
They're allowed to bring me any issue so long as they are prepared for my version of justice - which has been prayed over. Otherwise, they have to work it out among themselves.
"Mom! Can ______ give me back my widget??!..." or "Can ______ stop kicking me?" is not allowed. But might does not make right, and possession is 9/10ths of our law. We value private ownership and stewardship over forced sharing in this house. So stealing widgets is a serious offense, as is putting your hands (using any kind of force) on your brother.
They can decide together to bring something to court, or one person can drag the other to court. How it all works out depends entirely upon my judgment. If the plaintiff is guilty of a frivolous lawsuit, the trouble they bring upon themselves will be proportionate to the trouble they cause for me (the judge), not the defense. 
"Don't be in a hurry to go to court. For what will you do in the end if your neighbor deals you a shameful defeat?" Proverbs 25:8 
If the defense is found to be a menace to society, the sentence will be decided in such a way as to encourage working things out before they are ever brought to court. 
"Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison."Matthew 5:25
It only takes a few rounds for them to figure out how all of this works. It's become a rare day when I hear any cases at all. When I do, it's kind of fun. Everyone learns something they didn't know before. I still get whining and excessive pleas for intervention, but I can cut it really short just by saying, "Let me know when ya'll want to bring it to court, otherwise, don't say it again."

Today, Helpful Observer was bothered by the suspicion that two of his brothers may have enjoyed a treat yesterday that he missed out on, and he felt entitled to compensation. But no one would tell him for sure if they even got the treat. He wanted me to force them to tell him.
 (Helpful Observer) "Mom! Can they just tell me if they got it or not?" 
(Me) "Do you want to bring this to court?"  
(Helpful Observer) "Guys! Do y'all want to bring this to court?!"  
(Guys) "Do you seriously want to bring this to court??" (They knew it would not end well for him.) 
(Helpful Observer) "Then tell me!" 
(Guys) "We're not going to tell you."  
(Helpful Observer) "Okay, Mom, I want to bring this to court."
Maybe I should have let him, but I felt a little more merciful than his brothers. I tapped him lightly on the chest and said it sounded a little to me like he was really doing was bringing SUGAR to court. Did he REALLY want to bring SUGAR to court??? (Brothers are snickering.) Sugar is a necessary evil in this house. We don't fight over it or for it. It took him 5 seconds of intense pondering to give up the idea. Sugar is powerful yum. It didn't bother me so much to dish out a little pro-bono counsel today. But if he tries to bring sugar into my court again, I'll see to it that he has a complete hearing, and then a very thorough judgment that will leave a bad taste in his mouth for sweets.
If you're feeling overwhelmed playing referee all day long to your kids, I strongly recommend establishing a place where everyone can be heard, but no one wants to be found a nuisance to others, in word or deed. If it's not worth bringing it to court and having things possibly go very differently than expected, maybe don't mention it. Mmm-hm.
Jeannie Cotton, Houston

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Jessica said...

I would love to have a solid example of "court." This sounds like great fun!

Bonnie said...

I also would love to hear an example - love the idea, but I'm not sure I'm following how it works.

Amanda Armstrong said...

I would like examples too!! I had already thought of this idea, but I would like to know more about HOW you make your decisions. What, for instance, would you tell the boy who wanted sweets?
~Young Mom

Suzanne said...

I saw this on Facebook and it looks such a neat idea. I, too, would really love to read a scenario, or even two, to fully understand the suggestion here. Thanks for sharing!

Tracy said...

I totally get it. I have three boys and the bickering and tattling is constant. We can do this but I have to ask, one of my biggest problems is that they often do not keep their hands to themselves. How do yall discipline this? We just can't seem to find something that feels correct for this.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Jeannie. I need to get a Blogger account. I think I have one, even, I just don't have the google account I opened it with anymore.

Ooh, a "Court" blog. I could post examples, and others who use this method could add their own - or at least a link in the comments or something.

In the case of the sugar incident, if I had allowed a complete hearing, I would have let the boy talk until he felt completely satisfied that his gripe was thoroughly and carefully heard. It's kind of a trick. I nod sympathetically the entire time to draw out every attitude. I ask questions if necessary. Then I ask the offender for his side.

They have all been instructed, but might need a reminder to tell the whole truth, because they might not get another chance to speak. If the prosecuter seems upset by the testimony of the defense, I will allow a closing argument - sometimes from both sides. If they agree that the story was told accurately, it's time for deliberation. Sometimes I have to postpone a verdict until dad gets home in order to get his input if it's a man-training issue (I'm a woman, so I try to leave that to him), or if he is a key witness, but 90% can be decided immediately.

As a side note, their dad doesn't like my version of court because he thinks I allow way too much talking. He gets to the bottom of things in a way I consider unmerciful. The kids know that they're more likely to get the outcome they think is "fair" if they leave dad out of it. Even though their dad doesn't like my version, he loves the concept of Court and uses it like his best hammer.

We had another case yesterday, again involving sugar. We bought donuts for dessert the night before. They each got two. My Performer Kid saved one of his for breakfast, and their dad and I didn't eat any. Six people, 12 donuts, leaves 5 left over. My kids are skinny, and I'm overweight, so they know they can sweet talk me out of any calorie. I was bombarded yesterday with private requests for the extra donuts.

I do not have to keep count. They do. I prefer that they eat up sweets as soon as possible to get them out of the house. So I granted each request. As usual, it's my youngest that has the most to learn about how things work around here. My Performer Kid ended up with a missing donut.

He approached my Helpful Observer, who admittedly ate it, knowing it belonged to PK, who was saving it. His defense (between the two of them) was that he thought PK had two one to spare, right? PK suggested that HO should erase a $5 debt he had incurred with him as compensation. Of course, HO thought that was a little steep. They agreed to take it to Court.

I heard both sides, nodding sympathetically to both parties. When they both were satisfied that the story had been told, I turned to HO and furrowed my brow a bit and asked slowly, Did you /really/ take a donut that you /knew/ belonged to someone else? We all knew he did, he just told me the whole story about how he did. I only asked for emphasis. (Extortion like PK was attempting is wrong, but only when it's done to innocent people. ;D ) After letting that sink in a bit, my final judgement was that $5 didn't seem like quite enough of a penalty, and that he was lucky that was all PK had asked and that PK had not brought /him/ to court over it or he would have wished he could just pay $5 to get out of the trouble he would have caused himself. PK was very happy to have his debt erased, but I will be watching him to make sure he doesn't start using such scenarios as bait. Paying debts promptly is an important character quality, too, but so is being a responsible loaner - which HO needs to learn now with kid money rather than later with rent money.

Anonymous said...

This is Jeannie, again. Tracy, the way we handle them being physically aggressive is to give them chores that will help work off that energy. We have a "Consequence" book where they have to write their name, offense, and date. We tell them, "Go put your name in the book." Then when we need a chore done we ask who has their name in the book (or their name in the book the most), and that kid gets to come do whatever it is we need done.

The older they are, the better they should know, or the more frequent the infraction, the more difficult or lengthy the chore. The younger ones get the chores that are just kind of gross like doggie poop patrol or cleaning something gunky. Lengthy chores might include scrubbing things with wipeys, my favorite go-to assignment. Even a toddler can be given a wipey and a wall or toy to clean. A more difficult chore for an older kid could be sawing, digging, or raking something for me. I never ask them to do anything that they haven't seen me do hundreds of times. I don't want their "punishments" to ever appear too convenient for me or the lesson would be lost. If they approach it with the right attitude, I've even been known to help or take over. It all depends on the kid, the unfortunate choice of behavior on their part, and my judgement.