Putting the brakes on the bickering


Dear Adele,

We need some help. Our three school-age children are constantly squabbling and bickering about everything.” He’s looking at me!” says one. “She’s breathing on me!” retorts the other. And then the exchange of verbal assaults ensues with one of us parents sometimes raising our voices to tell them ‘Stop it!” “Cut it out!”, or “I’ve had enough. Go to your corners!” We cannot be the first set of parents to have been there. Ideas please for stopping this constant bickering!



Dear Referees,

You are likely quite right! We have all been there with our children fighting. While frustrating, it is a very common parenting challenge and I do have a few ideas for you.

An excellent article entitled ‘Sibling Rivalry’ talks about why the children fight in the first place and what to do about it. I think you will find these ideas helpful to understanding five causes of the fighting:

  • Children naturally compete for their parent’s attention and are jealous when one child is getting it and the other is not. Starting a fight gains attention.
  • Children have different needs depending on their stage of development. Those needs contribute to them defending themselves, expressing themselves, or demonstrating a sense of independence by speaking up for themselves.
  • Children are born with unique personalities and temperaments which play a role in how to get along and how parents treat them. One child may be laid-back and easy to manage, while another is strong-willed, easily frustrated or annoyed and requires different handling.
  • Some children may have special needs such as an illness or learning disability, which can result in them displaying more demanding behavior or being bullied.
  • Children often model the way their parents resolve disagreements or problems. If parents are calm and consistent, the child will model this respectful interaction style much of the time. Alternatively, if the kids are able to push the parents’ buttons and voices get raised with name-calling or accusations, the children learn this as well.

So, you are wondering what to do about this situation with your three children. You might want to adopt some of the following ideas and practices to help your youngsters get along.

  • Try not to get involved and only do so if there is physical harm likely to occur. Children need to learn to work out their own problems. You do not want to be seen as taking sides as this will make the fighting worse.
  • Separate the youngsters if things get out of hand. This will help to extinguish the emotional part of the squabble.
  •  Try for a win-win resolution if you must be involved.
  •  Share an item in dispute between the little ones by having a schedule for its usage.
  •  Learn how to run family meetings where rules are reviewed and successes praised.
  • Try to teach your offspring to see another person’s perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and how to deal with their aggressive impulses.
  • Coach your progeny with words. Encourage no name-calling, yelling or throwing things. Get their input on the rules for fighting fairly.
  • Teach the kids that life is not always fair or equal and that at times one brother or sister has needs that take precedence over another.
  • Be proactive in providing one-on-one attention for each child with special individual time each day.
  •  Understand that your children need time apart as well as time together. It is healthy and wise for them to have some separate play dates and activities.
  • Ensure that each youngster has his own time and space to do what he wants, such as his/her own toys, his/her own friends and his/her own alone time where he/she is not required to share.
  • Let your children know regularly that their needs will be met for safety, love and recognition.
  • Try to have fun as a family often where peaceful ways of interacting are demonstrated.
  • Consider starting a points system in the family where members can earn points for desirable behavior. The points can be spent on rewards, they might like such as computer time, play dates, or baking sessions.
  • When you’ve simply had it with the bickering hand over the controls to your partner if you have one.
  • If the bickering has gotten beyond you and is causing problems in the family dynamics, you might find it helpful to consult a professional who is skilled at teaching conflict resolution skills which you can pass along to your young.

Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions has a few ideas for after the fighting.

  • Amy suggests that parents do not become the judge and jury on the children’s argument but remain bipartisan. She encourages parents to use statements that begin with “I feel.”
  • Amy likes the idea of the proactive ‘redo’. The parents discuss the fight with the children after it is over and ask them what could’ve been done differently. Sometimes role-playing the fight with stuffed animals can be helpful.
  • Amy supports modelling peaceful communication. In her opinion the children are more likely to be respectful with each other if they see it in the way the parents interact in the home.
  • It is important to acknowledge when children do things right. “Practice makes progress and progress makes more peace in your home,” says Amy McCready.

An article by No Guilt Mom entitled ‘How to stop siblings from fighting: a tip that only takes 15 seconds’ was a short but helpful read. This author summarizes her approach with the following three points:

  • Acknowledge the children’s feelings with a statement such as “You are frustrated that your brother took your doll.”
  • Stay calm and use respectful words with no name-calling or yelling.
  • Verbalize what the child wants with statements like “You wish your brother would return your doll and apologize.”

I wish you the best Referees in creating a fight free environment. Put in place some of the ideas listed above and you should see a decrease in the squabbling and bickering in your family, and the growth of a more peaceful home, where children solve their problems between themselves with positive conflict resolution skills.

I will conclude with a few quotations which might serve to inspire you:

Quarrel with a friend and you are both wrong.” — Lao Tzu

We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves.” — William Hazlett

There are more quarrels smothered by just shutting your mouth, and holding it shut, than by all the wisdom in the world.” — Henry Ward Beecher

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels