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Sibling rivalry: How to deal with bickering

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. How can you deal with the bickering? Read on!

Help me end the bickering!
Situation: My kids' fighting drives me crazy! It's usually over some extremely important issue, like who gets to use the red Lego 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 Lego&trademark;, 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.

Strategies
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.

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