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Tips to end sibling squabbles

What's the best way to maintain peace at home? Photo: istockphoto.com

Summer always seems to go by so fast. Our family had an amazing summer full of travel, lazy days, and local adventures. It was also chock full of sibling squabbles. This is the only part I won’t miss when they head back to school. These disagreements, squabbles, or bickering — call them what you will — are frustrating, taxing, and mentally exhausting when parents have to constantly play referee.

Here are some tips I tried that helped.

AT HOME

I have found that the fighting is most likely to happen when my children are hungry, tired, bored, or need a little extra attention from Mom and Dad. Carving out time each day — even if it is just 5 or 10 minutes for each child individually can help a lot.

Another way to help reduce fighting around the house is something I saw on Pinterest.com and decided to give a try: the “Get Along Jar.” My daughter loves arts and crafts so she decorated a mason jar and we bought popsicle sticks. The idea is when the arguing starts, all you say is “get along jar,” and each child must go pick a popsicle stick from the jar. Each stick has a consequence on it, and we all brainstormed a list first. Some of ours included: Do a puzzle with your sister/brother, give your sister/brother three compliments, and put away your sister/brother’s laundry. My kids had so much fun coming up with the list, and because most were their ideas, they were much more apt to follow through on the consequence.

IN PUBLIC

There is nothing worse when your children start bickering in public. I am a huge proponent of letting them find a solution to the problem or work it out themselves, but this can be difficult in public. We have found it helpful to remind our kids what kind of behavior we expect before going into the situation. Reiterating rules and outlining proper behavior can help eliminate some discord — they have been warned.

Another part of that is rewarding them if they meet those expectations. This could be a special treat at the store or just letting them know how much you appreciated how they behaved. This summer we tried a family code word. They knew when I said this word I was not happy with their behavior and wanted it to change.

When you are out and about, keeping your kids distracted is a huge help. At the grocery store, they can help you check items off a list or they can help wash the car windows at the gas station, or it could even be as simple as walking in between them down the street.

IN THE CAR

We spent a lot of time traveling in cars this summer, and I found my patience was tried the most when the backseat brawls started. Most started with one of them invading someone else’s personal space. So now before we go on long car rides, we clearly define everyone’s space.

Another way to ease tensions in the backseat is to pack snacks — squabbles also start because of hunger or boredom, so having some crunchy snacks like pretzels or carrot sticks will help keep your kids occupied.

Keeping them distracted so they don’t have time to bug each other is another trick. Some of the ways our family does this is by playing “I Spy” or having a family sing-along. Thanks to this, I now know almost every word to Disney’s Descendants 2 soundtrack.

It is important to stop the bickering before it becomes a distraction to you as the driver. Trying to settle a backseat argument while driving is not safe for you or other drivers. If it escalates to a level of distraction for me, I calmly pull over, put the car in park, and tell them I am not going to drive with that backseat behavior, and I will wait until they are done and it is safe to drive again. Then, I sit in silence until they are quiet. This usually doesn’t take more than a minute or two because they know when this happens I am not happy and I mean business, and they quickly understand what I expect in terms of car behavior.

Sibling conflict is normal, and as frustrating as it can be for parents, it is not all bad. This conflict early on will help kids learn important life skills such as cooperation, compromise, and conflict resolution, which will continue to benefit them as they get older. To teach them these skills, you should find what works best for your family and be consistent. This is easier said than done, but our children do best when they know that yelling, hitting, punching, and saying mean things will not be tolerated, and there will be consequences. Sticking with what works will yield results — it may take some time but you will see improvement in how your children get along — I sure did.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com