For some people, the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard is the worst sound ever. For others, it’s the sound of sirens. For me, and many of the parents I’ve worked with as a school counselor, the sound of their kids bickering is enough to drive them crazy.
“Give me that! It’s mine!”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes . . . it . . . is!”
“Mom! He grabbed!”
“She started it!”
As parents, we all understand that siblings bicker. Unfortunately though, many parents make the situation worse without even realizing it. For example, when parents yell at their children to stop bickering they’re teaching them that yelling is an acceptable way to communicate. While I know firsthand it’s easier to yell “Hey! Both of you! Knock it off!” I also know from personal and professional experience that it won’t stop the bickering in the long run. In fact, kids will likely yell more because they see their parents responding that way. Another approach that exacerbates the bickering is when parents referee their kids’ arguments. When parent mediate for their kids, kids learn to rely on their parents to resolve conflicts for them.
So what can parents do to effectively handle sibling bickering?
1.) Teach kids how to resolve conflicts.
Conflict resolution skills are as necessary and important as learning to read and write. Therefore, parents need to teach kids the different strategies they can use when they have a disagreement with a sibling. These strategies include walking away, ignoring, talking it out, compromising, and apologizing.
Kids need to understand that sometimes the best way to solve an argument is to walk away before it ever starts, or to ignore siblings if they are trying to start a fight. Sometimes, though, disagreements cannot be avoided. Therefore, kids need to learn to express their opinion respectfully and the art of compromise so they understand the importance of give and take. Finally, kids need to learn to sincerely apologize when they’ve behaved wrongly.
2.) Enforce consistent consequences.
Since kids learn more from our actions than our words, parents need to show kids why it’s important to stop bickering with their siblings. In other words, there need to be consequences consistently enforced when they argue with their brother or sister. For example, if you say they won’t be allowed to go to the pool if they can’t resolve their conflict, and they continue fighting, you cannot take them to the pool. So make sure whatever consequence you choose, you’re prepared to follow through with it.
3.) Acknowledge kids when they’re getting along.
Parents often focus their energy on the behavior they don’t like from their kids. Unfortunately, this results in parents getting more negative behavior from their kids. Therefore, if you want your kids to get along, acknowledge them when they’re playing well together. Let them know that you like what you see and you’ll see them getting along more.