Ending Sibling Fights
By Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting and Kid Cooperation
Situation: My kids' fighting drives me crazy! It's usually over some extremely important issue, like who gets to use the red LegoTM piece. (Never mind that there are fifteen more just like it in the box!) I get so tired of the yelling, screaming and threatening -- not to mention what goes on between the kids! Please, I beg you, give me some ideas to put an end to this bickering.
Think about it: Most of us brought our second baby home from the hospital along with visions of our children becoming life-long friends. (Some of us even had a second child specifically so that our first would have a playmate!) When our children fight, it not only grates on our nerves, it tugs on our hearts. The most important advice I can give you is: calm down and relax. Keep a level head and view your kids' arguments in a realistic way. The fight over the red LegoTM, as intense as it may seem, will be over and forgotten by the time one of them realizes he needs a blue one. Kids fight for lots of reasons. They fight because they don't want to share, because they want parental attention, because they each have a differing view about what's fair, or simply because they have to share the same space, day after day after day. The vast majority of sibling battles are not destructive to the relationship between the children. All this considered, there are ways to survive sibling fighting. And there are ways to reduce the number of fights, and the severity of them, as well.
Take away the audience: It's a proven fact. Kids will fight longer, louder and with more enthusiasm when they have an audience. Usually, it's because they hope you'll step in and solve the problem. (You can sometimes tell that this is happening because your son's comments are directed at his sister, but his eyes are on you!) Therefore, it stands to reason that if you leave the room, they will have to solve the problem themselves. A large amount of verbal battles will fizzle out without a parent's interference. If you think about it, you'll really love this solution. It gives you permission to follow the essence of the advice from a particularly appealing bumper sticker I've seen, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping".
Identify and solve the problems: Try to identify if there is a pattern to the kids' fights. Do they typically fight over one thing, say the computer, or choice of TV shows? If so, make a schedule for computer or TV use. Do they always fight while you're making dinner? You could enlist their help in preparing the meal, feed them a healthy snack, or have a routine activity planned during that time, such as homework or chores. Do they always fight over who sits where at the table, or in the car? Assign specific seats and rotate them monthly. Do they fight while they are getting ready for bed in the evening? Let them take turns using the bathroom, one at a time, for a specified time period. The idea here is to identify the "hot spots" between your children and create a plan to prevent the problem from continually causing arguments.
Teach: Teach your children how to negotiate and compromise with each other. Have both children sit on a sofa at opposite ends, or on two adjacent chairs. Give them a choice. Tell them you will "arbitrate or mediate." Of course, they will ask what you mean. Let them know that "arbitrate" means you make the decision and they will live with it, "mediate" means they will make the decision, and you will help them come to the best conclusion. Over time, and with practice, they will learn how to settle arguments on their own.
Distract: If the argument is over a trivial issue, you can often defuse the tension with humor, or distract the kids with another activity. For example, if one kid is complaining that his brother is "looking at him funny," there is no sensible reason for you to intervene. Instead, ignore it and ask who would like to help you make brownies. Or, try humor. "Oh no! I once read about a boy who made a face like that and it froze in place. They had to mash up his food so he could sip his squashed pizza through a straw. He had such a hard time eating that he lost so much weight the cat thought he was a piece of string and batted him around the kitchen."
Praise good behavior: It happens. The kids are playing together nicely. "Oh, good," you think, "I'll have time to catch up on my paperwork." As tempting as it is, don't ignore your children when they are getting along well! This is the time to show up with a plate of cookies and a kind word of praise. Reward the behavior that you wish to have repeated, and you'll see more of it.
Question: MY kids fight all the time. What upsets me the most is when they get physical: hitting, kicking, pinching, pushing and hair pulling. I usually end up screaming at them. Is there a way to stop the battles?
Think about it: Children are not born knowing how to negotiate or compromise. When they are frustrated, angry or annoyed they will sometimes strike out physically. If they aren't taught the skills they need to control their emotions and if they aren't given direction about how to negotiate and compromise, they may continue to resort to physical actions to get their way. It's our job to teach kids how to work through their disagreements in a socially acceptable way.
Sit and Think: Have both children sit on a sofa at opposite ends, or on two adjacent chairs. Tell them they may get up when they have resolved the issue. At first you may have to mediate and guide the resolution. Over time they will learn how to negotiate and compromise on their own.
Time Out: When two children are physically fighting, immediately separate them into different rooms for a cooling off period. When they have both calmed down, sit them at the table together and arbitrate a discussion between them until the issue is resolved.
Separate: Tell the children they may not play together for one hour. Banish them to separate rooms. (Do not allow either child to watch TV or play video games.) Their first response is likely to be, "Great! I didn't want to play with him anyway." But after a boring hour playing alone, they will likely be better company for each other.
Payback time: Have the aggressor do a chore for the injured sibling, such as make the bed or take out the trash. An alternate idea is to fine the aggressor a pre-determined amount of money, such as 25 cents. The injured sibling gets to keep the payment. (Impose a penalty only if YOU see the aggressive action.)
Contract for better behavior: With your help, have the children create a contract agreement between them. Spell out what actions are unacceptable and what the consequences will be imposed for failure to meet the contract terms. Have each child sign the agreement and post it conspicuously. Follow through with the agreed consequences when necessary.
What's really happening? Don't always assume that the child who is doing the hitting is the only one at fault. Sometimes the "victim" has taunted, teased, insulted and tormented the sibling to the point of wild frustration. While it is never appropriate for one child to hit another, it would behoove you to be aware of any behind the scenes torture that may be testing your child's patience to its limit. If you discover that this is happening, begin to hold both children accountable for their behavior.
Catch them being good. Reward them for getting along with positive attention. When your children are playing together without fighting, make a comment of appreciation, such as, "I'm happy that you guys enjoy playing together." Giving attention when things are going well will encourage them to continue the positive behavior.
Special Note: If your children have frequent intense battles, it is a symptom of a much bigger problem. It would be wise to seek the advice of a family counselor or therapist. You may be able to find an appropriate specialist through your church, school, physician or local hospital. This is a difficult issue to resolve on your own. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign that you really care about your children and their relationship with each other.
(Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999)
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