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Is sibling bickering ruining your summer?

POSTED: July 13, 2017 11:41 a.m.
Erin Stewart/

Here's the method I use to restore (relative) peace to my house.

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Well, we’re more than a month into the summer, which means the children are at each other's throats and getting on each other's nerves. The shiny sheen of the lazy days of summer has worn off.

OK, it wore off like on Day 2 when the kids decided their goal for the summer was to see how many ridiculous things they could fight about in the course of 24 hours. Seats on the couch. Turns in the sprinkler. Color of Popsicles. Air molecules that “I was breathing first!”

It really doesn’t matter what it is, kids can fight about anything. I’ve even watched my kids fight over who was imagining they were a rainbow unicorn kitty first so the other one couldn’t do it, too. Yeah, I grounded them from using their imaginations for the rest of the day. Mom of the Year.

Hey, I mediate enough inane battles in the real world, I don’t need to referee squabbling in the imaginary realm, too. The truth is, kids get sick of each other after many days together at home, squished in cars on road trips and bouncing off the walls in hotel rooms. Tempers flare. Territorial battles break out. Emotions run as hot as the temps.

So, around this time each summer, when the rest of the hot-filled, quibble-inducing days stretch out before me, I like to take a moment to reboot my mommy training. Let’s be honest, none of us know what we’re doing here, and we need a little help now and again to get us back on track so we don’t end up yelling phrases like “I’m canceling summer!” Trust me, if you show up on the doorstep to your local elementary school in mid-July, they won’t take your kids, no matter how many times you tell them about the rainbow-unicorn-kitty debacle.

The book I usually reach for in times like these is “Siblings Without Rivalry,” aka my bible on how to make my kids get along without me losing my mind. If you have the time, read it. Grab a copy, tune out the summer sounds of “She did it first!” and treat yourself to some hands-on parenting tips to nix the fighting.

If you don’t have the time because you’re actively restraining Child No. 1 from clocking Child No. 2 over the head with a kayak paddle, then here are my favorite highlights:

  1. Ignore normal bickering. Not every fight needs a parent. Go to your happy place in your head and try to tune it out. I often “tune it out” by telling the kids if they need to fight, do it outside. My neighbors love me.
  2. When intervention is needed, first acknowledge their anger. “You guys really sound upset!”
  3. Verbalize each child’s point of view. “So, Child No. 1, you think it’s your turn to run through the sprinkler. And Child No. 2, you think your sister has had more than her fair share of time in the water.”
  4. Describe the problem with respect. “Two kids and one sprinkler. That is a problem.”
  5. Express confidence in the children’s ability to find their own solution. “I am positive you both can figure out a fair solution to this one.”
  6. Leave the room.
OK, so when I first read this method, I found it hilarious. I particularly enjoyed that last part where you express confidence and leave the room, sprinkling magic “get along” dust on their heads before you go, of course.

I thought there was no way this could work.

But then I tried it. Without fail, whenever I do these steps in a loving, respectful, calm way, my children solve their own problem.

When I come in short-tempered, demanding to know what’s going on and whose fault it is, my children follow suit and fall apart. And then, if I referee, I’m the bad guy to one of them and I subtly send a message that I care more about one child. That couldn’t be further from the truth, of course, because I dislike each of them equally when they fight about sprinklers or couch cushions or imagined rainbow kitties.

The key is to stay calm, acknowledge their absurd fight as a real problem (because it IS to them), and then reassure them that they are smart enough, kind enough and reasonable enough to solve it on their own.

The amazing thing about this simple method is that I don’t have to be the bad guy to anyone. In fact, when I handle the situation right, there is no bad guy at all. They somehow get on the same team, determined to prove that they are indeed capable of solving this problem. Usually, they run in to find me, hopping with excitement to tell me their ingenious solution. And what’s more, they enforce the solution themselves because they feel ownership and pride in it.

That’s what I call a summer-parenting win.

How do you help your kids get along during the summer? How do you tune out the bickering when they don't?

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