They’re at it again. You can hear them in the next room and you want it to stop. Now. Your children are having a heated debate that seems to be escalating by the minute. Should you intervene or should you let them fight it out?
As parents we all long for our kids to get along and be friends, but their fighting can seem to be a constant negative and never-ending cycle. In our decades of coaching and teaching parents (and raising our own squabbling crew!), we have found a few guiding principles to help you as you steer your kids towards peace and connection at home.
Only intervene when it is obviously necessary.
The temptation for many parents, when they hear their children in conflict, is to intervene quickly and make it stop. You want quiet. You want peace. You have things to do and you don’t have time for this! However – when we intervene too soon or too often we are cheating our children out of a great opportunity to learn lifelong negotiation and peacemaking skills. These clashes when they are young help equip our kids with the necessary skills they will need to use in the future when they disagree with a co-worker or friend or are engaged in what seems like the hundredth “debate” they are having with a spouse.
WHEN, then, is it “obviously necessary”?
“He hit me!!!” “She took my marker!”
Have you ever thought – “I am just refereeing 24/7, and I certainly have better things to do with my day. This is not okay! The fighting needs to stop.”
Unfortunately, the more we have an expectation that our children shouldn’t fight, the harder it is to be prepared for the challenge of conflict.
The reality is that kids fight all the time! University of Illinois professor and family researcher Laurie Kramer, Ph.D., has found that siblings between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict an average of 3.5 times an hour. The youngest kids (those in the 2 to 4 age group) are the most conflict-prone at 6.3 conflicts per hour–or more than one clash every 10 minutes.*
“No, YOU’RE dumb!”
“Well, you’re a loser!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“You’re a butthead!”
Name-calling between children is a challenge for many families. Once kids get on a roll of slinging names back and forth it can seem like an express train to a sibling meltdown. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can help your kids turn their angry words into an opportunity to connect and build even stronger relationships.
Parents of siblings… did you ever think it would be this hard?
You imagined your kiddos as best friends, being there for each other throughout life, and always having each other’s backs. And yet, here they are, yo-yo-ing from best friends to bitter enemies several times a day. Sometimes it seems like the “best friend” moments are becoming increasingly fleeting as you try to keep the next world war from launching in your living room.
Some of the most frequently asked questions we receive are in regard to sibling conflict. We’ve heard your cry and our online course specifically addresses this seemingly impossible challenge. It was developed after working with thousands of parents throughout the years. We also incorporate our own experiences raising three quarreling children (who now, as young adults, support and love each other dearly!).
In our five-session online course Sibling Conflict: From Bickering to Bonding we teach parents how to teach kids The Peace Process. The way siblings interact is a powerful training ground for future relationships and we believe we can help you navigate this tricky territory. Our goal is not to simply “stop the fighting” but to give you some tools to grow strong, healthy relationships. If kids learn The Peace Process in the safety of your home, they can take this practice with them into all future relationships!
Join us! We’re excited to partner with you as you empower your kids to grow in their relationships with each other…which will strengthen your whole family!
Coaching parents has been the greatest joy in my professional life! I’ve seen countless kids’ lives change for good while witnessing greater parent confidence and satisfaction. Those results are why I stopped providing therapeutic services to teens and began coaching parents.*
In my experience, the power and influence of a parent with a plan can alter even the most dire family struggles.
Ten years of working with teens labeled as EBD, ODD, ADHD, OCD, or just plain “at-risk”, brought me to a place of seeking my master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and my license in Marriage and Family Therapy. I wanted to help families, not just teens, because behind hurting teens are hurting parents.
In our role as parent coaches and educators, we hear it all the time: “One of my kids just doesn’t seem to get it!” Parents go on to describe the child in their home who frequently resists and escapes chores and assigned tasks in spite of all the clear instructions. They then tell us that, in contrast, the other kids in their family seem to be mostly compliant.
Resentment builds as these kids become increasingly aware of the comparison between themselves and (what they perceive to be) their favored siblings. Discouragement settles in as distraction, resistance, and conflict grow.
What recent brain science is helping us understand more clearly is that often the kids who fit the above description are not naturally more rebellious, defiant, or disobedient. Rather, they naturally have lower levels of the neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine. This predisposes them to more intensely chase pleasurable distractions of all kinds. Their need for this chemical is what’s often behind their distraction, and when you call them back to routine chores they cry, “I don’t wanna do it!”. (Read more about dopamine’s role in ADHD)
WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Did you know you may inadvertently be dealing “drugs” to your children?
Dopamine has been called the brain’s “pleasure chemical.” It is released when pleasure is experienced. It creates healthy motivation to pursue various life-giving pleasures such as accomplishing a goal, taking on a new challenge, or connecting with others in meaningful ways.
According to Amy Banks MD, in an ideal world dopamine bursts would happen primarily through pursuit of healthy, life-giving activities – particularly through nurturing human connection. Unfortunately, we live in a world that has many of us seeking dopamine in all the wrong places, like overeating and obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, and consumerism.
Related to dynamics with our kids, it starts out innocently enough. When you smile and give your child that thing they are SO excited about and you get a big hug – Shazam! a dopamine feast for both of you! It felt so good. Let’s do it again. And you do it again. And they do it again.
And pretty soon contentment becomes dependent on dopamine bursts.
Entitlement. If we mention the “E-word” in one of our workshops there are audible groans and eye-rolling. Parents are overwhelmed by this complex problem which seems to be spiraling out of control.
Last year we surveyed parents about their top felt needs, and they were begging for help with the entitlement in their homes. Another indicator? Year after year, articles we’ve written about entitlement are consistently in the top five of highest page views.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how seemingly “entitled” your kids are, you are not alone!!
We responded to this need. As we were developing our newest online course on entitlement we surveyed our Insider’s Team. The results of this survey helped us identify the top causes for the growing problem of entitlement in homes and helped us shape our course.
Starting with number three….
3) Persistent kids that wear down parents with their demands.
“This is stupid! Why do I have so many chores! This is your job, Mom! And when can I get a phone? Everyone else in my grade has one. Why don’t I?” Sound familiar?
You don’t want entitled children, but you’re wondering how you got here and how to get out!
If helping your kids get past this sense of entitlement was a simple script or three easy steps, there would be far fewer entitled kids. We have found in our 20 plus years of working with parents that this is a rapidly growing problem – and it is not just a surface issue.
Eat your broccoli, or there’s no dessert!
Nooooooo! It’s yucky!!
Then no dessert for you!
But I want ice creeeeeeeeam!
You’ve heard dozens of times that an important key to family connection is enjoying meals together. But what happens when those mealtimes turn stressful, anxious and anything but connective because parents and kids disagree about what kids should be eating? The power struggles that ensue can ruin everyone’s appetite and decrease the likelihood your child will grow up to be a healthy eater. We appreciate what Ellyn Satter said in her classic book How to Get Your Kids to Eat, but Not Too Much:
Parents are responsible for what is presented and the way it is presented. Children are responsible for how much and even whether they eat!
We share three important principles with a variety of practical ideas in this article to help bring peace to your family mealtimes. These come out of my professional training with children’s eating difficulties and coaching dozens of families through these struggles. Try one or two this week and let us know how it goes!
1) Create an ENJOYABLE MEALTIME environment
- Ditch the label “picky eater” if that’s what is in your mind and comes out of your mouth. (It’s in our title because it’s a frequently searched phrase.) A shift in perspective will help you all relax. No labels, just think – my child is anxious about food, my good intentions may have made that worse, but we can all learn and grow together.
- Have regular sit-down family meals, with positive conversation and atmosphere, and no screens or distractions. We encourage everyone (including parents!) to surrender phones during meal times.
- Refuse to engage in power struggles related to what or how much your child chooses to eat. The dinner table is not the time to “win” the battle. In some families, kids do well with a “Let’s all try a bite of everything” approach, but if this becomes a power struggle it is counter-productive.
- Pass food. When capable, children should be encouraged to pass food and place servings on their own plates. Resist the urge to comment on how much or how little they take when the serving bowl or plate passes by them.
- Allow messiness and play. For younger children allow some messiness and playful exploration of food, especially at snacks. Exploring and playing with food is an important part of development in which children learn about food and also learn to enjoy it. How high can they stack their crackers?
- Talk about the characteristics of the food. Describe the food’s size, color, shape, texture, smell, and taste. In a relaxed way, talk about why you enjoy it, and how it is similar to a food which your child accepts.
- Include children in food preparation when developmentally appropriate. When kids have a chance to help plan, shop for, and make a meal they are more excited to eat it!