Dealing with squabbling

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Ian Munro shares some tips on how to deal with squabbling children.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Having spent some time with the grandchildren recently, I found myself caught in the middle of their occasional squabbles, usually about sharing something, taking turns or some other perceived minor unfairness.

While it was hard to resist stepping in and sorting things, I mostly let things run their course.

Letting them sort these minor squabbles is actually good for them. It increases social skills, vocabulary and emotional development. Now that sounds great for them, if not for us. To get this working reasonably effectively, they will need some pointers to work on.

Physical fighting is out. Weigh up whether to get involved in a one-poke situation if both are capable of handling it but, if it's more than that, have some consequences for one or both parties.

As adults, we can choose to walk away from an argument to clear our head and calm down. Kids find that difficult and just keep yelling louder and louder, usually until there are tears.

One technique I've seen for teaching kids this pause strategy is the stoplight approach. RED is Stop and take three deep breaths; ORANGE is Pause and think about the options; and GREEN is Pick a peaceful path and head off that way. Encourage them away from the blaming, "it's your fault" type of statements to look at the other options.

After that:

• If you have to make a decision, tell them, don't ask them. Listen to any complaint only if presented in an appropriate way. Then make clear your decision by either repeating it or modifying it.

• If there's a pattern to the time of day squabbling happens, you might need to make some changes to your schedule or theirs, provide different activities, or feed them.

• If food is to be shared, allow one to do the dividing and the other to have first choice.

• Squabbling over a toy means it's put away or they're on the kitchen timer with it for a set period and then it's handed over.

• You might need to help older children protect their space or possessions. They're then less likely to take the law into their own hands.

• Give children a certain day of the week or odd and even-numbered days when it's their turn to make decisions like choosing the television programme or bedtime story or using the computer.

• Spring a surprise if they're getting on particularly well. Catch them being good before it turns sour.

One mother of three boys pinned a notice to the wall of each bedroom that said, "Share, Negotiate, Take Turns or DO WITHOUT!" It took a few weeks, but the squabbling reduced dramatically because they'd had to work things out for themselves.


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