We have all experienced relationships where we can’t live with them, yet we can’t live without them. And, sibling conflict isn’t any different. What do parents do when siblings argue? Do they sit by and watch it happen? Or, do they jump in and tell the kids to cut it out? I’m going to present how to coach your kids from the sidelines when the sibling squabbles could get them thrown out of the game.
Why do Siblings Argue?
I know sometimes we think that our kids are from another planet. Yet, kids, like adults can argue about almost anything! Children may bicker about tangible items, such as food, electronics, and toys. Or, kids may worry about not having enough love, attention, power, peace, and space. And, sometimes they just find it amusing to get their sibling stirred up.
I have a mostly, well-behaved little boy who likes to see his big sister squirm. He has no idea that he doesn’t make any sense. He enjoys stating the opposite of what his sister says. They can go back and forth, while arguing about nothing of substance. For example, “yes I did, no I didn’t” will repeat again and again. He thinks it’s funny, and at this point I have to hold back my giggles too. But sibling squabbles aren’t always funny, so what do we do then?
How do Parents Respond?
The good news is our kids are moldable. They have the ability to learn how to manage their emotional and social world better. And, we model this every day, both positively and negatively at my house.
Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of parenting. I think parents have a few options when dealing with children’s misbehavior: 1) leave it alone, 2) enforce consequence, or 3) coach kids.
What behaviors do you leave alone? When do you intervene and enforce a consequence? I usually leave harmless bickering alone, yet use consequences for aggressive behavior. I don’t want to be the referee all of my children’s arguments, yet I want them to be safe. When my kids are safe, yet the conflict is heating up, I try coaching them.
Here is what coaching on the sidelines looks like at my house (on good days):
Notice cooperation: I share my observations. “It looks like you two are having fun together.” Or, it looks like you two have solved your problem without my help.” I can only do this if I am letting them work out some of their own problems.
Ask before helping: I try to restrain the urge to scold and/or fix my children’s bickering. Then, I ask “is this something you guys can solve on your own or do you need my help?” If they ask for help, I guide them through the problem solving steps: 1) identify the problem, 2) identify possible solutions, and 3) pick a solution everyone can live with. I try to let my kids do most of the talking and brainstorming.
Encourage teamwork, not competition: I recognize how tempting it is to use competition to motivate a child to comply or move faster. Instead, I encourage our kids to be a team, and get the job done together.
Teach uniqueness: Kids typically want to be better, smarter, faster, and/or stronger than their sibling/peers. I emphasize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses (or things they do good and bad). I repeat: “Differences don’t mean that one is better or worse, just different.”
Although I may try to keep family peace at times, I don’t want to be responsible for my kids’ relationships. The best I can do is manage my own feelings on a good day and coach them through the hard parts. You too can stay on the sidelines – it can be quite a relief!
Now, it’s your turn. I want to hear your perspective. How do you keep your cool when your kids start arguing with each other? Share how you teach your kids to solve their own sibling problems.