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Repenting Bench

Over the next 10 weeks, we are going to share with you, our loyal ValuesParenting followers, the ten best parenting ideas we have come across during our four decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. The ideas are not in any particular order, but represent simple, practical “best practices” that can be implemented in any family.

These are ten individual ideas or methods that seem to always work for parents. They are not complicated concepts or theoretical parenting philosophies—rather, they are very basic ideas, many of them involving a “prop” or some kind of physical object. And all of them are capable of being quickly introduced and used right away within your household and with your children. Each of them addresses a particular parenting challenge—a common need or concern that we have heard parents express frequently over the years.

The first of the ten deals with a problem that every parent with two or more children has faced. It is the challenge of fighting, bickering, arguing, or as it is sometimes gently described, “sibling rivalry.”

This kind of contention can drive the peace and the spirit of love out of a home in a hurry. And it can drive a parent crazy. There is nothing worse than trying to be the judge and jury in every conflict between children. “Who started it? Well what did you do? And then what happened? You did what? Who said what to who?” It never ends! You are trying to decide who is to blame, who should be punished, and most of all you are trying to figure out how to stop it from happening!

The problem is that by intervening, parents take ownership of the argument; and we take away the benefits of kids resolving their own disagreements and learning how to apologize and “repent” to each other when they have hurt or insulted or belittled their sibling.

When these little conflicts or fights or arguments are not resolved, they tend to fester and expand and get worse. And if we are not careful, words like “hate” and name-calling creep in and our own kids develop an animosity toward each other that may undermine their future relationship and loyalty.

The best way we have found to deal with this issue and to get away from always intervening and being the judge and trying to mete out the punishment is something we call “the repenting bench.” It works like this:

  1. Get a simple bench from somewhere (we actually got ours from an old church in England while we lived there—a stiff backed, uncomfortable little pew.) It can be anything, a simple wooden garden bench or whatever you can find. It should be about the size to accommodate two children, and it should not be comfortable.
  2. In a family meeting or family home evening, explain how it works: That any two family members who are arguing or fighting are sent to the repenting bench and that the only way to get off is to figure out what you did wrong (not what the other kid did—what you did—it takes two to tangle) and apologize or repent to the other person—say “I’m sorry, will you forgive me.” Rehearse or role-play in your family meeting exactly what will happen when there is an argument. Have everyone commit to go to the bench when they are sent there, including the parents.
  3. When two kids are sent to the bench, (do it matter-of-factly—that’s just where you go when you fight—we have all agreed) a parent stands by. When a child can identify what he did wrong, his part in the argument, he simply states it, says he is sorry and will try not to do it again, asks forgiveness from the other child, gives him or her a little hug, and can then leave the bench. The other child, if he or she is ready, can do the same, or will have to sit there until he or she figures it out.

If you strongly establish the repenting bench and what it means and how it works in a family meeting, and if you are consistent with it for two or three weeks, it will become a family institution and a “good habit” that will begin to happen automatically and without argument or resistance any time there is a fight or the kind of bickering that, unchecked, can lead to real animosity.

Let us know how it works in the comment section below, and tune in next week for Best Parenting Practice #2!

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