Putting a stop to sibling bickering

If my boys aren’t fighting over
toys, it’s about whose cracker
has more access to the dip,
who goes first up the stairs,
who goes first down the stairs.
They even fight over which
route I take to get home (one
likes me to go straight; the
other around a curve). The
bickering drives me to despair.

For weary parents, there is
some solace. As it turns out, all
siblings bicker. “The bickering
can be on a different level
and different frequency, but
I have yet to see siblings that
don’t squabble,” says Aneta
Chencinski, M.Ed., a family
and parent coach who has a
private practice in Toronto.
“The bickering will vary
depending on the children’s
age and the age difference.”

If your children are young,
bickering may follow a
predictable pattern. Aneta
says, “When children are
stressed, upset, confused or
tired, they will demand more
attention from parents, and if
parents are busy, children will
begin to bicker. They would
prefer positive attention, like
having parents play with
them, but any attention is
better than no attention at all.
They will do whatever it takes
to get their parents involved
with them.”

While younger kids may
bicker to act out their anger
and attract their parents’
attention, older kids might
simply find it entertaining.
“One child I worked with was
10 years old and told me that
he was greatly entertained
by his parents’ reactions. He
would watch with pleasure as
his parents tried to break up
the bickering.”

No matter what your
children’s ages or motives,
Aneta has some anti-bickering
strategies parents can use.

  • Redirect their attention
    before the bickering starts.
  • Listen to their stories and let
    them take turns talking. You
    can ask both siblings to tell
    you just one story with one
    ending so that they learn to
    collaborate if they want to tell
    you what happened.
  • Take time to empathize and
    understand that they want
    your attention.
  • Help them find words for
    their feelings. This will teach
    them to express what is
    bothering them and help them
    feel more secure and loved
    because they were listened to.
  • Take yourself out of the
    equation to minimize jealousy.
    Explain to your children that
    you believe they are capable
    of finding a solution, thus
    building their self-esteem and
    minimizing the times they
    will rely on you for resolution.
    This will also encourage them
    to work together, teaching
    them cooperation and selfassurance.

When your children
do bicker, there are a few
important rules that need to
be followed. “Hitting should
not be allowed under any
circumstances,” says Aneta.
“The rule ‘you hit you sit’
needs to be established early.”
Even at ages one or two,
parents can sit their child on
their lap for a minute until
they quiet down. You can also
request a time-out – for all the
siblings. These rules are meant
more to stop and redirect the
children rather than punish
them. When they are calm,
“helping them to find solution
to the problem is the best
solution.”

Seven ways to
cope when your
children bicker

  • Take a deep breath…
    calm yourself.
  • If you can, remove
    yourself from the area of
    the conflict. 
  • If you feel you
    need to be where the
    action is, walk slowly
    in the direction of the
    commotion…it can stop
    before you reach the
    room. 
  • Don’t raise your
    voice. 
  • Listen actively to each
    child’s story. 
  • Validate their feelings. 
  • Help them find a
    solution that will satisfy
    everybody.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

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