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Ugh…sibling rivalry. Is there anything more annoying? And if your kids are anything like mine, they somehow manage to fight over pretty much anything! While the battles may be over the tiniest details, the effects of that constant turmoil wear on everyone’s nerves. Have you ever wished for surefire way to just get your kids to STOP fighting?
While there is no magic wand for nipping sibling rivalry in the bud, there are a few strategies to try that can help short-circuit a huge amount of noise — and help you teach your kids valuable lessons about family life at the same time. Ultimately, getting your kids to stop fighting takes touch of ingenuity, a generous dose of authority, and a commitment to consistency. Here are six smart ways to keep the fighting to a minimum.
1. Spend Time With Each Child Individually.
All too often, a bickering war starts because one child sees another getting something he/she doesn’t get, especially when it comes to time spent with a parent. The “slighted” child doesn’t even have to really WANT what’s being handed out; it’s the perceived preference (“Mom likes you best”) they find intolerable. You can short-circuit this nasty green-eyed monster effectively, and prevent the start of bickering, by making an effort to provide opportunities for each of them to participate with you in something they find enjoyable.
For example, if your son loves ball games, make sure your daughter (who could care less about sports) doesn’t have an opportunity to whine when Dad takes her brother off to the field, leaving her behind. Instead, think of something she loves to do, such as play her favorite board game or go out for ice cream, then make plans to do it at the same time. A little sneaky? Nope. Just creative.
2. Refuse to Play the Blame Game
It’s a classic scenario: something spills or breaks, someone takes a spill or gets hurt, and the screaming starts. When we go to investigate, what’s the first thing we hear? “I didn’t do it!” or “It’s not my fault!” or “She started it!”…or any of a hundred variations on the “blame game.” But there are magical words you can say in this melee that will virtually stop it in its tracks. Those words? “I don’t care who’s to blame. No one is in trouble. I just need to know what happened.”
The first time you do this, it might actually be a little funny to see the expressions on your kids’ faces as they struggle to make sense of the idea of not blaming their sibling. What it also does — which is even better — is reduce the situation to just that: a situation. It shrinks from a capital crime on someone’s part to what, 99 percent of the time, actually happened — a mistake or an accident. Whose mistake isn’t important; fixing the problem is. Try it a couple of times and see how fast your screamers become helpful assistants, once the fear of someone getting in trouble is removed from the equation.
3. Pay Attention to What Goes In.
All parents would love to have kids who treat each other kindly — who don’t belittle each other, call each other vicious names, poke holes in each other’s dreams, or deliberately break each other’s toys — but they end up being happy if they keep the “little monsters” from killing each other! Part of the dilemma, of course, is that kids are learning boundaries (and pushing them!), and they have a lot of growing-up to do before nicely finished, evolved personalities come out. But another answer lies in what you feed them.
No, we’re not necessarily talking nutrition here — although healthy food, proper sleep, and other prudent practices reduce a lot of bickering that comes from hunger, fatigue, or stress. Instead, it is what goes into your child’s mind and heart that will also “recycle” in their behavior. Be careful about what television shows and movies your children watch. Even so-called family entertainment freely uses insults, sarcasm, “stupid” parental figures, or other ill-treatment of others for a cheap laugh. Make sure that you are gently but firmly reinforcing the message that that kind of behavior doesn’t work in your home.
4. Make House Rules Hold…For Everyone
Speaking of what will or won’t fly in your house, don’t hesitate to make it clear (with appropriate consequences) that some things simply will not be tolerated in your home. Teasing a sibling can be fun and good-natured if both sides understand limits; taunting a sibling to the point of tears is neither fun nor acceptable. Letting kids fight it out can be a reasonable strategy if it’s a minor skirmish between brothers who are always roughhousing anyway…but it’s not if a much bigger kid is “letting loose” on a small, defenseless one.
It is also important that everyone in your home–even the adults–follow the house rules for fair fighting. If you wouldn’t let your kid behave in a certain way, don’t do it yourself. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discipline your children in an appropriate way, but it does mean that it is not okay to call your spouse or your children cruel names, even in jest, or to threaten them with violence. It also means that you don’t allow visitors in your home to cross those lines, either.
5. Keep Idle Hands Busy
Kids can often become whiny or argumentative simply because they’re bored. In situations where kids are forced to sit still, wear uncomfortable clothing, or be confined for long periods of time–such as a long car trip or rainy day–sooner or later, their patience wears thin and tears and complaints can follow. Working with your children’s lower threshold for frustration is key. It is a good idea to have high expectations for your kids, but it is also important to remember that they are still just kids, and plan accordingly.
This does not mean you should have the latest gadgets or technology to keep them busy at all times. Instead encourage your kids to find creative ways to entertain themselves by pre-planning a few options for them to choose from. (Our Summer Fun with Kids series is a great place to start!) It’s also helpful to know that your kids will be able to tolerate doses of confined spaces and quiet time a little better if they also have chances to get up and run around, play a game, read a book or sing a song, work a puzzle, or hear great stories that make them laugh along the way.
6. Employ Creative Corrections
In our house most infractions are dealt with on the Naughty Stool (thank you Super Nanny!) But when it comes to two kids who are fighting, sometime drastic times call for drastic measures. We have found the best method to getting our kids to stop bickering is to put them on time-out together, facing each other and holding hands. They are not allowed to fight or bicker or they get another minute added to their time, and they don’t get to come off, even if their time is up, until they can apologize to each other and get along.
The first time I set the timer for 3 minutes, the next time it was 4 minutes, and so on, and, so that we don’t eventually accrue too may minutes, they can get time removed by getting along for a whole day. This simple solution has been an remarkably effective technique. (Apparently holding hands is tantamount to being tortured!) Most of the time we only have to mention holding hands to stop the bickering in its tracks.
Show grace. Forgive yourself when all the preventive measures, firm rules, calm discipline, and ingenious attempts to keep your kids from meltdown don’t work, and show grace to your kids when they mess up too. No technique can guarantee 100 percent success 100 percent of the time. Conflicts, squabbling, and griping will happen; they’re human nature. When the blow-ups happen, try not to let them rattle you. Even mistakes can help your kids learn another invaluable lesson, that even when we all mess up, you don’t stop loving them — or yourself.