Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sibling fights (ages 2-6)

Full question: What did you do when young siblings (about ages 2-6) argued or fought?

Common themes and ideas:

Opinions ranged from "fighting with siblings was non-negotiable" to "don't worry about it too much because they'll grow out of it." The difference may be based on the age group people were most focused on (toddlers are different than those moving into elementary school). I think there is more to explore here and would love any reader comments.

Importance vs. Non-importance
"While you can't entirely eliminate quarrels, don't turn a blind eye or allow it to become habitual.  It's wrong.  They have to know you expect kindness." "My husband had the philosophy that some things are negotiable (like bed time) and some things were non-negotiable (like playing in the freeway).  Fighting with siblings was a non-negotiable thing." "My suggestion is not to become overly concerned, because they will indeed grow out of it." "I guess the most important thing of all is don't let it get to you.  You just don't have to solve every issue."

Teaching/Modeling
"Take time to gently and sincerely help them learn the importance of family friendships....Most siblings want to be friends." "Spending time teaching the importance of humble apologies, even when you feel you're right (along with role playing, so they know the words and how to do it) goes a long way.  We required apologies and hugs from the time they were little." "I believe in 'I' messages.  Let each one tell how he/she feels and why, rather than attacking the other.  With really young children sometimes you have to identify those feelings and how their words and actions affect others."

Don't take sides
"I tried hard not to take sides." "It's just too much as a parent to be refereeing all the time.  And then you get the you-like-him-the-best defense." "When children don’t get along it is rarely only one child’s fault, a shared consequence is preferable to the parent taking sides."

Separation/Distraction
"I would not allow them to play together for a period of time, and that was a pretty good punishment by itself, because they were each others’ playmates and friends." "When kids are 2 or 3 they argue about a toy or space they occupy.  They really aren't fighting with each other so much as fighting for a possession or territory.  So separating them is the most efficient way to take care of it.  Distraction is the key."

Forced Togetherness
"Take It Outside...On the front doorstep, no less." "Another technique we used was to put the two in a room together and let them work it out.  Once they could settle down and talk about it, they could join the family....With older children I have literally put them outside to solve the problem.  If it was either an especially hot or cold day, they worked it out more quickly." "we set them in a quiet place by themselves (but not too far from the fun everyone else was having), made them hold hands and think of 10 nice things to say about each other.  Then we'd come back and as they still held hands they had to tell each other the things they thought of."

Work it out
"As the children got a little older (5 or 6) we had them work things out for themselves....We often just said to knock it off and work something out. That's where you will see which of your kids is the great negotiator. If they couldn't come to a peaceful settlement then we would change the environment and neither kid would get what they wanted."

Positive Consequences
"Regularly have Secret Service challenges or reward sibling kindness, so they can practice caring for each other."

Negative Consequences
"I well remember that if they continued to fight over a toy, then the toy was just put away, for everyone, regardless of who was at fault....Our rule was 'work it out, or you both lose it,'"


Answers:

Samantha (and Thomas)
It was always discouraging to me (mom) when our kids would quarrel.  I felt personally responsible and exasperated.  None of the tricks I tried worked infallibly and with certain personalities (those with short fuses and zero to sixty launch patterns) it seemed everything required more consistency and patience than I possessed.

Here's our best list of what helped:

Take It Outside - "Love is spoken here, so if you're going to quarrel, you'll have to take it outside." (On the front doorstep, no less. Convenient and effective because we live where it's below freezing seven months a year.  Quarrels usually ended in a few minutes.)

Change Bedrooms - Some kids just ignite each other more readily.  The right pairings can make all the difference, and sometimes they just need a break from each other.

Always Apologize (whether you're right or wrong) - Spending time teaching the importance of humble apologies, even when you feel you're right (along with role playing, so they know the words and how to do it) goes a long way.  We required apologies and hugs from the time they were little.

Practice What You Preach - Parents can't quarrel, yell when they're upset, or explode when something goes wrong and then expect their kids not to do the same.

Secret Service - Regularly have Secret Service challenges or reward sibling kindness, so they can practice caring for each other.

Talk About It (a lot) - Take time to gently and sincerely help them learn the importance of family friendships. There's a powerful Mormon Message called, "Two Brothers Apart" that we've used with our grandkids lately, stopping it at various points and going over the deep emotional pain and joy it illustrates.  Most siblings want to be friends.  Help them set goals and keep trying until they are.

Don't Allow It - While you can't entirely eliminate quarrels, don't turn a blind eye or allow it to become habitual.  It's wrong.  They have to know you expect kindness.


Anna (and Gerry)
Our children were pretty close in age, so we had our share of bickering.  We tried everything:  time out, parking noses, separation from each other, taking away privileges etc.  Most everyone has probably used some of these methods, and I’m not sure how well any of them really worked, especially at the young ages of 2-6 years.  The younger ones were just too young to reason, but their ability to reason and understand consequences would increase as they got a little older.  I well remember that if they continued to fight over a toy, then the toy was just put away, for everyone, regardless of who was at fault.  I tried hard not to take sides.  Our rule was “work it out, or you both lose it” (the toy or a privilege etc.).  When they were old enough to understand that concept, it gave them incentive to work it out for themselves.  Of course, if things got physical where someone could really get hurt, then we had to intervene.  When it got to that point, I would not allow them to play together for a period of time, and that was a pretty good punishment by itself, because they were each others’ playmates and friends.

It was not a one-size-fits-all situation.  Every child was motivated to a good behavior in a different way.  Sometimes it just wasn’t worth it.  When it turned into a power struggle with me and the offending child, then it just wasn’t worth it.  They are pretty young at 2, 3, or 4, and sometimes just don’t get it.

My suggestion is not to become overly concerned, because they will indeed grow out of it.


Mary (and Robert)
When kids are 2 or 3 they argue about a toy or space they occupy.  They really aren't fighting with each other so much as fighting for a possession or territory.  So separating them is the most efficient way to take care of it.  Distraction is the key.  If it's a toy both want, introduce a different toy into the mix.  If that doesn't work take the offending item into custody and distract them with a couple of new toys.  One child may still have trouble with it but if the other one is content you can always return the original toy to the mix.  If it's just real estate they are upset about, move someone...bodily if necessary.  This is a common problem when in the car.  In the car we also used the sit-on-your-hands method. When we were driving and they were "touching" each other it caused problems and our solution was for them to sit on their hands.  

The thing to remember is that this isn't necessarily a teaching opportunity.  You don't have to talk them into being happy with each other.  They will be happy with each other again in about 30 seconds.  You don't have to talk to them about sharing; that will eventually come.  Don't expect more than a child of that age is capable of.  As they get a little older you will have to teach those lessons.  Just don't get ahead of yourself.  You will only tire yourself out and the kids will continue doing what they do naturally.

As the children got a little older (5 or 6) we had them work things out for themselves.  It's just too much as a parent to be refereeing all the time.  And then you get the you-like-him-the-best defense.  We often just said to knock it off and work something out. That's where you will see which of your kids is the great negotiator. If they couldn't come to a peaceful settlement then we would change the environment and neither kid would get what they wanted. 

Finally, if they just couldn't get along, we set them in a quiet place by themselves (but not too far from the fun everyone else was having), made them hold hands and think of 10 nice things to say about each other.  Then we'd come back and as they still held hands they had to tell each other the things they thought of.  They usually came up with really lame stuff but by the time they finished they either were laughing, plotting together against us, or just willing to let bygones be bygones. 

I guess the most important thing of all is don't let it get to you.  You just don't have to solve every issue.  And you certainly don't have to tell them why.  The most important lessons they can learn from these incidents are 1. they are loved, 2. they love each other, 3. they have to be nice, and 4. bad behavior isn't acceptable in our family.                                    


Marsha (and Richard)
This is a hard one for me.  I’m not sure I remember at those young ages.  Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between what we feel now that we should have done and what we actually did.  Also, It may have varied from the first two children to the last two. 

We did not allow our children to abuse each other with name calling, hitting or ”putting them down”, but, hopefully, focused on the problem at hand.  I believe in “I” messages.  Let each one tell how he/she feels and why, rather than attacking the other.  With really young children sometimes you have to identify those feelings and how their words and actions affect others.  Sometimes younger children were not allowed to play together for a period of time.  Then, when they felt they could get along, they continued their play.

When children don’t get along it is rarely only one child’s fault, a shared consequence is preferable to the parent “taking sides”.  When teaching a principle, it can be taught to both at the same time, but If one child is struggling with consistently being too aggressive, a bully or too sensitive, it is better to visit with that child in private.  Pointing out individual mistakes and need for improvement should be more personal, not done in front of peers or adults.

Correcting children in front of others undermines their self-respect and reputation. The more respect we give a child, the more respect we will get back.  They will learn to model our approach.  I often ask myself, “Would I say that to a good friend?”  If not, how should I rephrase it to be more respectful.

Another technique we used was to put the two in a room together and let them work it out.  Once they could settle down and talk about it, they could join the family.  This would be for the older end of the spectrum.  With older children I have literally put them outside to solve the problem.  If it was either an especially hot or cold day, they worked it out more quickly.


Tamara (and Lewis)
This may sound odd, but we didn't really have a problem with siblings fighting.  Of course, there was the normal squabbling - but it was very short lived.  My husband had the philosophy that some things are negotiable (like bed time) and some things were non-negotiable (like playing in the freeway).  Fighting with siblings was a non-negotiable thing.  We felt like contention was a tool of the Devil where the Spirit could not dwell and we did not want it in our home.  So, at a very very early age, fighting was immediately nipped in the bud; hence, as the kids continued to grow, it never became an issue.  Maybe we were just blessed with kind children.  We told our kids that friends come and go, but brothers and sisters are forever, and so they had better learn to get along with each other first.  (Who wants eternity with people you don't like? ha)


Catherine and Kenneth
Regarding arguing and fighting, we held a FHE where each member of the family said what they liked about each of the other members of the family.  It sure did help.


Karen and Lance
If our children argued or fought, we immediately settled the situation.  We wouldn't let them get out of control.  Our children didn't do much hitting or rough-housing.  We were fortunate that our voice control generally solved the problem.


Next's week's question:
When your babies were about age 2-10 months, did you 1) intentionally teach most of them to sleep through the night (if so, how, and did it include several nights of crying?), or 2) get up and feed them until they naturally slept through the night on their own (if so, at what age did this occur)? Also share whether you think it best to 1) have babies about age 2-10 months "cry it out" to learn to fall asleep on their own or 2) assist them to sleep via nursing, a pacifier, or your arms.


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2 comments:

  1. This was a great post. I mostly like that they said not to worry too much about it because they grow out of it. I think for me and my siblings, my parents were gone a lot, and we fought a lot, but we did indeed grow out of it. When my parents were home and involved, they helped us spend a lot of time together on trips and playing games in ways that helped us to become friends. Now that we are grown up, we are very good friends...that definitely paid off!

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  2. I think that working out the ups and downs of sibling relationships can be good prep for future relationships. So, I liked what people had to say about their kids needing to work it out for themselves. I guess the thing for me to learn is when to get involved because the interaction is mean (and still how to not particularly take sides?) and when to stay out.

    One thing we do that I love is sit the fighting kids next to each other and each has to tell me what they personally did to contribute to the fight. I love helping them learn to not point fingers but to think about what they personally could do better. Then they have to say they're sorry and hug, which I hope is teaching the importance of not letting issues and bad feelings fester.

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