What to do When Kids Fight
Ask Amy: When Siblings Fight
by Amy Egan
Very little can disturb a parent’s peace like children fighting. And it seems that very little we do to alleviate it does much, if any good. Most of us use knee-jerk reactions when we hear our kids fight or throwing punches. Those reactions being either yelling at them and telling they must learn to get along, or stepping in trying to find out who started the whole darn mess.
The problem with telling them, in our sternest voices, that they must learn to get along and quit fighting is that it doesn’t work. How many times have you said something like this to your kids? And how much better do they get along now? The real problem is that whenever we command our children to do something and they don’t do it, we look very wimpy! I’m pretty sure that we can all agree we ought to toss this technique into the trash bin.
As for the other favorite option we parents use – finding out who exactly the culprit is – well, that doesn’t work either! As soon as we get into the middle of our kids’ fights and try to fix everything, we end up listening to their stories and then labeling one child a victim and one child a villain. When we do this, the victim always feels victorious because the victim feels more loved that the villain. And the villain feels less loved and even more angry at the victim. The villain wants revenge. And in most families there seems to be a perpetual victim and perpetual villain. Now we have a vicious cycle set up. And one that encourages our victim to secretly annoy our villain so that they can once again be victimized and loved more by Mom or Dad. Ugh. Another technique for the dumpster!
So what is a parent to do with sibling rivalry? The Love and Logic program tells us to remember two words when it comes to kids fighting; stay out. Send them elsewhere to work it out. They are welcome to be in your presence as long as they are not disturbing your peace. Or, you can charge them a ‘listeners fee’ to be around their fights.
I will tell you that I like the Love and Logic idea. It has been very helpful in our household. Yet there are times when I feel I need something more. An example of this would be a few weeks ago when my 12 year old daughter over heard my 17 year old son and his friend discussing some girl that was ‘hot’. My daughter thought overhearing this was better than a trip to Yountville. When she shared it with me we had a little giggle together. And that was it.
A week later my daughter was with the parents of my son’s friend and told them her story. She was proud to have finally heard something juicy from the late-blooming boys! I would love to say that this was the end of the story. But sadly, it continued on in a direct southbound direction.
Being adults we all thought it a harmless, even cute, little-sis escapade. So the parents of my son’s friend mentioned it to the boys and teased them a bit about it. The next thing I knew our son stormed in the door, yelled some pretty mean things at our daughter and didn’t speak to her the rest of the evening.
This was very upsetting to daughter. She asked me for advice so I suggested she give him a cooling off period and then apologize to him. The next day she came to me choked up – it didn’t work; he was still mad at her. This went on for a few days and no change other than daughter became increasingly upset and disturbed.
My husband I were tempted to approach our son and remind him what a slight infraction this was, that she is only 12 and to lighten up. But I knew in my gut that my son needed to be heard if there was any hope of healing this thing. So instead, I called them each into a small room in our house. We all sat on the floor. I explained that we were going to go through a process with this situation as both parties seemed to be uncharacteristically emotional about it.
My son initially got up to leave the room stating he would not negotiate with “a rat”. I used all my power and told him if he did not come back to the room, he would not be driving our car anymore. He came back and sat down.
Here is how the technique works. One party speaks first, anything and all they have to say. The other party must stay quiet until Party #1 is finished. Then Party #2 repeats what Party #1 has said and asks if they feel understood. If they do, it is Party #2’s turn. Speak your mind and how you feel about it. The other party repeats. And back and forth it goes.
Initially, it was ugly. I feared it was just making the wounds worse. I was very surprised to see how hurt my son was by what he viewed as betrayal from his sister. But I kept at it, playing the role of mediator, reminding them to keep quiet when it was not their turn, and moving them on when it was time to switch turns with the floor.
Incredibly, after a few turns each, I could see them seeing the other’s point of view. I could sense them feeling the other’s feelings and understanding where the other was coming from. It really was all a huge misunderstanding and through this technique, the whole mess slowly unraveled. We all walked out of the room after less than 10 minutes feeling a hundred times lighter. It was a miracle.
That was about three weeks ago and I have to say the relationship between the two of them has been better ever since. I wish had thought to use this before.
~ Happy Parenting!
Amy Egan is a Parenting Consultant and trained Love and Logic Parenting course facilitator. She and her husband are parents to their teenage son and 11 year old daughter. They live in Allen, TX. If you have a question about teens or tweens for Amy, please email her at email@example.com.