Kids: The Secret to Ending Fights over Taking Turns
My life as a mother started out with a bang: triplets. Going from zero to one kid is life-altering, and going from zero to three was unimaginable. That number quickly grew to six very young kids, so we were dealing with taking turns from birth. It's hard to walk the line between fair and trying to keep everything perfectly equal with kids. The first is fairly manageable, the second is impossible, and does our kids no favors. Life will never be fair, and definitely not perfectly equal, but when they are little, we can try to keep things fair-ish. One way I do that is by having a leader of the day. We started this when they were very young. Maybe a year old? We've been doing it as long as they've been able to protest about who went first.
HOW IT WORKS
We rotate who is the leader of the day each day. We rotate through in birth order. For this example I will give my kids initials A-F to keep it easy for you. On day one, A is first in line. If it is her day she is first with everything, whether it is something desirable or not. She gets to go first on the slide, first in the bath, first to be served at dinner. She also gets to choose the show if we are watching one that day. It also means first to get her teeth brushed (back when they were young enough that I brushed their teeth for them), first at the doctor, and first to go down for nap. No matter what was happening, if it involved turns, she was first on her day.
On day one the order is A, B, C, D, E, F. On day two the order is B, C, D, E F, A. On day three the order is C, D, E, F, A, B, an so on. Everyone has their day of being first, last, and every spot in between.
Not every day presents the same opportunities, so it's not always perfectly fair (nor should it be), but they know their turn is coming, they know their order, and they accept it very quickly and easily because they see that their turn is coming. I can't tell you how many millions of fights and tantrums this avoided. I had my first five kids in 3 years, my lap has been in high demand for years, so who gets to sit on mommy's lap? Who gets their shoes on first? Who gets their shots first? Who gets first pick of anything? Who gets to go with mommy or daddy on the errand? Who gets first pick of spot on the couch? Which park should we go to? Who gets to hold my hand? Who says the prayer before dinner?
These all have an easy answer. Whose day is it? And the fight is over before it begins, because they each know their day is coming, and that their day of being number two is coming as they move up the line day by day. With things that no one wants to do, they still don't argue. You are first because it's your day. That's just how it is. You take to good with the bad.
It can even be extended to certain chores. If it's your day, you get the mail and feed the chickens. Or if it's your day, you are my helper with the baby, things like that. I have been teaching my kids how to cook with me since they were tiny. Some things in the kitchen I was able to do with all of them at the same time, and some of them it wasn't safe to do with all of them. If they were leader of the day, they got to be my kitchen helper. It provided some one on one time with that child, which was so nice (my kitchen was gated off, so I could be sure the others wouldn't sneak up on me when I had the oven open, for example).
WHAT IT DOESN'T MEAN
Leader of the day doesn't mean dictator of the day. They don't get to boss people around. Let's say they get to choose the board game you are going to play as a group. If someone decides they don't want to play and goes off to play something else, that is their choice. The leader of the day doesn't get to force the others to play her game. She gets to choose the game, and the others get to choose whether they participate.
They don't get to make ALL the choices. Mom and dad still get veto power over everything because, well, I'm the parent. I don't let them choose the meals, because we would have been eating grilled cheese, hot dogs and pizza every day, and that is not how you teach kids to eat like adults. They don't get to choose IF they take a nap, but now that we've transitioned to quiet time, they get first choice of where they have quiet time (since those who share rooms sometimes can't handle quiet time in the same room). You see where I'm going with this. We are talking about things kids take turns with. We are not giving up our authority as parents.
They also don't get to act ugly about it, or they lose the privilege for the day. Lording it over the others doesn't fly.
WHEN DOES IT STOP WORKING?
Well, it hasn't stopped working for us yet. Our oldest are nearly 11, and our youngest is 4. I'm picturing triplets wanting turns with a car. Well, whose day is it? Then it's your turn to give me gray hair, I mean drive. Because guess what? I won't have 3 spare cars for their use in five years. Who gets to take their driving test first? Who gets to mow the lawn? Who gets to take the garbage cans to the street? Who gets the car for their date? Who gets...you get the picture.
This is so easy to implement, and even your tiniest tots catch on very, very quickly. It teaches cooperation and shows them that they can be patient today because their turn is coming.