I’ve been dealing with sibling rivalry issues at my house lately. The problems of normal brother-sister-baby squabbling are compounded around here by my sister’s three kids, who are here so much that they’re included in the bickering as normal combatants. The seemingly endless combinations of battle options provided by three girls and three boys, all 2 years apart, can have me at wits’ end faster than a Ferrari can go zero to sixty.
The most effective method I’ve found is a little hard to tell you about: I have to listen to myself. It is painfully embarrassing to admit that I often hear Georgia, my seven year old, yelling at her brother in exactly the same tone I just used on her. I’ve noticed that the worst fights seem to break out when I place some sort of stress on the kids. Usually it’s a command to clean up their rooms. This usually inevitably brings about the “He’s not helping,” “She threw something at me,” arguing that escalates into us ALL yelling. If you want your kids to stop yelling at each other, you have to stop yelling at them. This includes that tone that all mothers have, the one you use when you’re saying “Don’t mess with me, go on and play, I have to get this done.” (You know the tone I’m talking about.) Hard to do, but it’s the only way to stop it. If you maintain the demand that everyone will be treated respectfully, eliminate the angry and dismissive tones, and you maintain your composure, the fighting will stop. (Or at least be quieter.)
Another thing that can help is easing up on the pressures you put on the kids. I like to think that we homeschooling moms are not serious offenders in this area, but as single parents sometimes we can’t control the stress our kids are under. I don’t mean that you should let them skip spelling or math, but if you’re taking more than two different types of lessons, you should think about cutting back. Kids need unstructured time to play outside, lie in the grass and count bugs. Kids who have to suffer through the hassles of dual-households need this time more than most. Also, if you’re carrying on an ongoing battle of locked horns with your ex-spouse in front of the kids, don’t be surprised if you see them re-enact it in your living room.
In short, if your kids are fighting, your first step should be to look to yourself. The way you treat your children affects how they treat each other. A change in your attitude can work wonders that a time-out can’t. How are you causing or encouraging their behavior? It’s a difficult admission to make, but often when there are behavior problems in my household, it’s primarily my fault.