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Creative consequences: Beyond time out

When it comes to bickering, my boys are professionals. They can bicker any time, anywhere, over any thing. They can bicker overtly and covertly, at the top of their lungs and under their breath. They can bicker with their eyes.
I really, really dislike it. Oh, yes, I know it’s normal. I remember bickering with my siblings. But I am always concerned with it going too far, and when I tell them to stop, or even physically stop them, that is what I am trying prevent.

I’ve talked to the boys many, many times. I’ve talked to them about how each is the only brother the other will ever have. I’ve talked about how the unkindness bothers me. I’ve talked to them about treating each other as they want to be treated. I’ve reminded them that each is responsible for his own actions; one cannot blame the other for causing his actions.

All this, often, is to no avail. (Sigh.)

When the bickering gets too awful, I separate them, of course, but sometimes they need further consequences. However, standard consequences such as time out and loss of privileges didn’t seem to be quite the right thing. For a while, I tried giving them a task they had to complete together, but that was even worse torture for all of us.

One day I tried something different. I had each boy write a list of 10 good things about the other, then they had to sit on the couch and tell each other those 10 good things.

Let me tell you, the boys hated doing that. They whined. They moaned. They took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to write their lists. They almost had consequences for behavior during consequences! But after the list-writing was done, and the telling-one-another-good-things was finished, they actually calmed down a bit and played nicely together. For a while.

Last Thanksgiving, they were at each other all day. I was trying to make our big dinner, guests were due, my husband was still at work, and Sunshine was clingy. I had no patience for their bickering. None.

Around the time my husband finally arrived home, I reached my limit. “That’s it,” I said, “The two of you on the couch now.” They looked at me. “Now!” The boys sat on the couch, as far away from each other as possible. I set the kitchen timer for five minutes.

Then I said, “Now hug each other.”

The boys looked at me in absolute horror.

“Hug each other now, for five minutes, or you might have to do it for 10 minutes.” Quickly, they put their arms around each other. I think those were the longest five minutes of their lives. Alfs tried to get me to swear I would never, ever tell anyone. I just smiled.

In those minutes, my husband could not walk into the family room without almost bursting into laughter. “I don’t know,” he said to me, “That’s pretty harsh.” Then he added, in jest, “I might have to call child services!”

When the five minutes were up, they were so relieved. While I wouldn’t say the hugging consequence has cured their bickering (not by a long shot), I can pull it out when I need to. “Hey, guys! Cool it, or you’ll be on the couch hugging,” usually gets them to chill just a bit.
Points and Prizes Keyword: BLAME worth 50 points good through 02/17/08.

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