Episode 209: December 3, 2012
by Cheryl Butler
If you have more than one child, I bet hardly a day goes by when you’re not refereeing some type of argument, such as “Mom, he just pushed me and made me ruin my Lego tower!” or “She wore my favorite sweater to school without asking! Aren’t you going to punish her?” and so on.
Do these irritating exchanges sound familiar?
You are certainly not alone. In our household of 8 kids, it wouldn’t be the norm if one of them weren’t antagonizing another. Here are 5 tips to help squash sibling squabbles and create a lot more peace around your home.
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Tip #1: Set “Peaceful” Standards in Advance
If you constantly fall victim to sibling fights and nagging without any positive outcome, fear not—there is still time to change. Sit your older kids down when everyone is calm and in a positive frame of mind, and go over the standards of getting along that you expect in your home. Include topics like name calling, pushing or hitting, tattling, stealing toys, and anything else you want addressed. Be specific in letting them know that you cannot referee every problem that arises, so they will have to learn to figure things out amongst themselves or face penalties (such as losing toys or privileges, doing more chores, etc.).
For kids under age 4, keep it simple and clear. “You and Katie have to share your toys. If either of you grabs a toy without asking, Mommy will have to take the toy away from both of you until you can take turns nicely.” I tried this tactic on and off for a couple of years without great success—however, the moment I changed how I reacted when there was a squabble, I got their full attention. What did I do differently? I simply stayed calm and didn’t raise my voice or get flustered and followed through on any punishments. Consistency of your emotional reaction and handling of these situations is key.
Tip #2: Teach Your Children How to Avoid Negative Situations
Many times prevention is the best way to avoid unnecessary fighting. Talk to your kids about certain behaviors that lead to sibling bickering. For instance, let’s say you have a child who is a predictable hothead when it comes to having to do chores or perhaps he or she doesn’t do as well in school as her sibling. Pull your other child aside and talk about it.
You could say, “What does Kayla do when she starts to get in that angry mood?” Your other child might say, “Her voice gets louder and she immediately starts pointing at me.” You can then say, “When you see those warning signs, just walk away—nothing good is going to come of staying there and trying to ‘win’ the fight.” This not only teaches your child to avoid a bicker-fest, but it also teaches her that walking away while maintaining a calm demeanor is empowering. You’ll also need to pull your hothead child aside and address his or her temper. Without getting angry or emotional yourself, remind your child about the peaceful standards your family is going to abide by mentioned in Tip # 1. Then, ask your perturbed child if something is eating at him or her to make him react so angrily. There is usually an underlying cause for that type of behavior that needs to be resolved or it may even just be a bad behavioral habit and now you’ll have to work consistently to break him of it.
Tip #3: Pick Your Battles Wisely
For small incidents, such as not sharing toys, teach children to handle it themselves. Simply state what you expect and the consequences if your rules aren’t followed. Say, "I'll be back in one minute. If you kids haven't learned how to share the toy or work it out, the toy goes up in the attic until you can learn to get along."
You can either time-out the toy or time-out the kids. That way, you're giving them two messages:
1. That you expect them to be able to work out things out by themselves
2. That there will be consequences if they don't.
Children really do expect parental guidance and boundaries. It’s our job to consistently enforce what’s appropriate in our homes.
When bigger problems occur, such as one child hitting or verbally abusing the other, they require adult intervention. In such cases, if you stay out of the picture, the child that is being victimized will think you’re siding with the bully. Keep it simple and explain that each time there is a situation where someone is physically or verbally confronted, there will be a no-tolerance policy and the child that started the behavior will be removed from the situation immediately and will have to help with an unpleasant task like sweeping the kitchen floor or cleaning the bathroom, or be put in their room alone (without electronics).
Of course, you’re probably going to hear them shout, “But that’s not fair, she started it!” Keep your cool and remind them of the “Golden Rule”—treat others the way you would like to be treated. Then carry through your decision to remove that sibling from the room right away. When everything calms down, take a few minutes to ask him how he could’ve handled the situation so that he has a roadmap for a more peaceful approach next time.
Tip #4: Create a “Get Along Jar”
Nothing stops a fight faster in our house than our “Get Along Jar”! We have a Goofy cookie jar in our kitchen that we got on vacation at Disney World several years ago. It doesn’t contain delicious cookies, instead, it holds about 20 index cards with suggestions from my husband and I for ways the kids can show their appreciation towards one another.
Some of these suggestions are: “I can show my brother how much I love him by doing his chore for 2 weeks.” Or “I will pack my sister’s favorite lunch every day for the rest of the week.” You can be as creative as you want with these suggestions. Once a sibling fight starts, simply remind them that if they don’t work it out, you’ll select an item from the “Get Along Jar” to help them. Watch how quickly the fight gets resolved.
Tip # 5: Praise Them When You See Them Getting Along
Try to catch and praise your children when they are treating each other nicely. When you consistently take the time to reward their good behaviors, it will plant a seed that you have recognized their efforts. Ultimately, they want to please you. Most times parents ignore their children when they get along and yell at them when they start fighting. In this way, they are giving the poor behavior attention and ignoring the really good behavior. But that’s exactly wrong. We must heap attention on the good habits to reinforce them.
How do you keep sibling squabbles to a minimum? Let me know in Comments or post them on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check back next week for more parenting tips. Don’t forget to check out my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT. Be consistent when teaching your kids to keep the peace with their siblings and until next time—Happy Parenting!