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