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When the Bickering is Too Much: Sibling Edition

After only one week of summer break, my sanity was definitely being tested.

Please tell me I wasn’t the only mom feeling like that.

Sibling Love

I have two boys and they are nine and 10 years old. They are 17 months apart in age and best friends, usually.

I usually have to force them to have space. During the school year they will find each other at recess and at lunch. Their friends basically have to accept them as a two for one deal. They have different personalities, so I have seen the difficulty for some of their friends.

They currently have their own bedrooms with a Jack and Jill bathroom in-between. Their beds face the doors of the bathrooms, and they demand that the doors stay open so that they can see each other … even when they start arguing and I tell them I am going to close the doors.

Even just threatening that feels absurd.

I was never best friends with my siblings, so I absolutely love that my boys love each other as friends. But as the saying goes, there is a thin line between love and hate. In their case, hate is a very strong word; however, you get the point. There is such a thing as spending too much time together. Too much time together equals lots of bickering. With my boys, there is a big difference between fighting and bickering and I handle them differently.

Fighting

I know fighting looks different in different families for different kids. For my kids, fighting is not quiet, it is LOUD. When my boys are fighting I will hear loud yelling of “Stop it!” probably five to six times in a row. Rarely is sufficient time given for a person to actually “stop it” before the next “stop it” warning is given.

Physical fighting is a newer thing between them. It doesn’t happen often, and it usually involves something being thrown at the other person. Their loudness and constant use of the same phrases drives me nuts pretty quickly. However, I used to get all caught up in their crazy where I was stressed out trying to break them up, only for them to be back to perfectly loving best buds seconds later.

So I started just timing their fights and seeing if and how they worked things out. I learned that their fights lasted maybe five minutes before they figured things out and calmed down. So I reduced my interference and my stress.

There are definitely things I have no tolerance for when it comes to fighting, and I interfere immediately. For example, name calling. The “I” and “S” word (idiot and stupid) get used by them at times and I am all on top of it then. They get lectured. If they can’t remember what they learned about using kind words when they were three years old, I will get my white board out and we will learn the basics all over again.

Also, when the fighting gets bad with the name calling and if I notice it’s been an issue for a week, I take away all their stuff, television time included, except for board games. I don’t know why ,but for some reason sitting at the table with board games resets their anger toward each other. Maybe not with the first game, but they get a whole day of board games to remember that love and respect must be part of their sibling friendship.

Bickering

Merriam-Webster defines bickering as “petty and petulant quarreling especially when prolonged.” Yes, Webster I completely agree with your definition.

When my boys have too much time together, they get into these petty arguments that last all day with only breaks for snacks. And that is what tests my sanity.

If one of them looks at, smiles at, whistles at, or breaths near the other, the bickering begins. You can count on what feels like hours of “No, you…” and “No, you…” Fill in the blank with the most irrational phrases you can think of and that’s what their issue is about. I’ve tried pausing their bickering moments to explain to them that they are really arguing about nothing, and I try explaining to them that they are arguing for the sake of arguing and why that isn’t good or productive.

However, since their brains are not fully developed, my words go nowhere. But their stuff does! Yes, I do love taking away their stuff, it is a highly effective tool for behavioral change in our house.  

So how do I handle bickering? They get space. They get sent to their rooms alone and are only allowed to read a book or draw. Or I will have them take turns walking the dog alone. They hate being alone, so doing these things will remind them of that. When they start begging to play with each other, yes they will beg for each other eventually, then they get to play again. If I am completely exhausted with the bickering, I will keep them separate for longer to make sure they remember their lesson.

I love that my boys are close and I hope that never changes. I expect them to fight, but within fighting, I expect them to be respectful. It’s the same with my husband and me, we may not always agree with each other but we never disrespect each other.

To me, bickering is worse than fighting because it serves no purpose. And although I feel like bickering serves no purpose, I also believe if left unattended, it can lead to them taking each other for granted causing division. I want kids who love, respect and appreciate each other, and they definitely need some discipline and guidance to get them there.

How do you handle bickering children?

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