July 3, 2012
“The constant he said/she said is driving me nuts! Is there a way to create peace?”
Macaroni Kid Reader Asks:
My 6 year-old daughter and 12 year-old son bicker with each other constantly. They watch each other, both waiting for an opportunity to pounce. They don’t get physical but the incessant he said/she said is driving me nuts! Is there a way to create peace here?
There is definitely a way to create more peace between siblings! When I ask parents what they wish could be different at home, one of the first things they mention is that they wish their children didn’t bicker, tattle and compete so much. It’s not surprising they bring this up because it’s stressful being around siblings who are constantly niggling each other, putting one another down, teasing or contradicting each other.
The main reason most siblings argue and tattle is to get our attention, and it does get our attention! Our natural reaction is to intervene and referee in a he said/she said situation in an attempt to create peace. We may also be tempted to scold, reason, take sides or blame. But when we react in these ways, we are giving our kids a lot of attention for bickering. So unfortunately, when we get pulled into sibling dramas and referee, we end up reinforcing the tattling and bickering.
Before I give you a few effective strategies to create more peace, it’s important to understand that a small amount of sibling competitiveness and bickering is natural, normal, inevitable and healthy. Sibling interactions are an important arena in which children can learn about peer relationships and about their impact on others. Even though we know that it’s too much to expect siblings to always get along, we do want them to be nice to each other most of the time. What we can realistically aim for is siblings who learn to play together, respect each other and each other’s belongings, to share and be kind to each other, most of the time.
So what you can do when they come to you complaining and tattling? The first thing to do is to stay out of it! It doesn’t work to ask what happened because you will never really find out; each child will tell you a version of reality that makes him look good and the sibling look bad. And the more we give advice and suggest solutions, the more our children will assume they need an adult to be judge and jury. So instead of trying to sort things out for them or with them, respond with Reflective Listening. As you empathize, each child will feel heard, and they will both get the clear message that you trust them to find a way to get along together. They can! The more attention we pay to their tales, the more they will tell on each other.
When one of them comes to you complaining about the other, you might say, “It sounds like you’re really frustrated with your sister.” Or “You probably wish you didn’t have to share the bathroom with your brother. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in our family had their own bathroom?” Or “Maybe you’re feeling envious that your older brother has a cell phone and you don’t yet.” Just imagine how each is feeling and express it. Learning how to respond in this empathetic way (Reflective Listening) can have almost magical results. The bickering and tattling soon lose their appeal when we no longer give them attention.
Another strategy that helps drastically reduce sibling squabbles is to carve out some “Special Time” to spend with each child separately. Kids do not vie for their parents’ attention nearly so much when they are getting the positive individual attention they crave. Even just 10 – 15 minutes will make a difference!
For more effective strategies to stem sibling rivalry, visit our Parent Resource page at calmerparenting.com. We all want our children to fight less and get along better and to be lifelong friends. With these strategies and others, you will achieve it.
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