Managing squabbles

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Parenting columnist Ian Munro sets out some good techniques for dealing with squabbling siblings. 

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

How did your mental health stand up to the school holidays? Was it a relief to have the kids back at school and have the squabbling end?

The usual scenario probably went something like this. The elder hit the younger, the younger came crying,

"He hit me!" You told off the elder, "Stop picking on your sister." "She started it." And on and on.

You punish the elder, the younger has power, the elder seeks revenge and the fight will be continued another time in a never-ending cycle.

We can't solve children's squabbles. It would take more than the wisdom of Solomon to do that and, anyway, there's rarely an innocent party. We need to be quite careful when a crying or yelling child tries to draw us in to referee.

Your intervention gives one child the upper hand in the ongoing power struggle by having you on their side. It also saves them the trouble of having to solve their own problems.

Not giving attention when they're fighting but giving it when all is peaceful (catch them being good) is one way of dealing with the petty stuff. Food is usually a good reward. Bring out an afternoon snack just as they're starting to get scratchy.

Of course, you will need to intervene if serious injury is pending but, unless severely emotionally disturbed, children will only cause momentary, minor pain to each other. They don't usually want to injure.

If you feel you need to intervene, don't take sides. One course of action that works with younger children is to have them stop what they're doing and sit together or near one another. They're both to stay there until each has given the other permission to get up. No insincere apologies required, no giving their side of the story. They have the power to end the time out by working together and when they get to this point they've generally cooled off. Neither loses, both win.

If one becomes particularly obstinate and a substantial time has passed you probably need to intervene. At this point the obstinate one could be sent to their room with the right to return as soon as they feel ready to be pleasant.

Or you could send both to their rooms if they have separate rooms and they can return in their own time when they're ready to be cheerful. If one returns still quarrelsome back that one goes. The solution is in their hands. For older children you might want to set a minimum period for the time out (15 or 20 minutes) after which they can come out when they're ready.

Be as calm and as impartial as you can manage.


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