Question: I am at my wits end. My kids (two boys, ages 9 and 11) fight all the time. Everything is an argument. It seems that they don’t even like each other. Lately I feel more like a referee than a mom. I really don’t know what to do. Do you have any advice?
First of all, let me tell you that you aren’t alone. But let me also tell you that there are things that you can do about this brand of sibling rivalry. Here are some ideas:
1) Adopt a no aggression policy. First of all, you need to be very firm and clear that hitting, swearing, threatening or verbally degrading each other will not be tolerated. A zero tolerance policy means that there are no warnings. A discussion with both boys about this new rule before it goes into effect is their warning. Respond swiftly and consistently with an appropriate consequence (a loss of a privilege, an addition of a service deed to brother, etc.). This is an area where “boys will be boys” does not apply.
2) Enlist the help of a friend. Sometimes we are too entrenched in our own problems that we can’t see what’s right in front of us. Invite a friend over for coffee for a few hours. Have her observe your kids (and you – sorry!). Give her freedom to give you honest feedback about what she sees. She might be able to give you some insights that you would have missed otherwise. Sometimes we may side with the “weaker” sibling and thereby increase sibling tensions. Other times we are simply caught in a cycle of “rewarding” bad behavior with lots of negative attention. We may need objective eyes to see these dynamics.
3) Change your focus. Right now, you are focused on stopping the fighting and it is not working. Instead of stopping something, it may be helpful to start something. You said that it seemed that they don’t even like each other. You need to make it a priority to rebuild their relationship. They may never be best friends, but they can learn to get along. They simply need to stop focusing on differences and start focusing on commonalities. Brainstorm with your spouse about things that both boys enjoy doing. You may need to start as a triad – with you or your spouse participating. If they like a particular board game but can’t seem to play without it ending in a screaming match, play with them, pointing out the positive at every possible juncture. Do they like baseball? Take them to an empty Little League field and practice batting. You may stink at pitching, but your boys will become united in their giggles at your efforts.
4) Give attention to what you want to see more of. If you want to see them getting along more, you are going to have to put on your detective glasses. You may think that there are no opportunities to encourage positive interactions, but you may just have to look closer. If you find them sitting and eating breakfast at the same table, you can say, “These last five minutes of breakfast have been so enjoyable. It is nice to see you boys getting along.” This is true even if for the last five minutes their mouths were stuffed with waffles. No positive interaction is too small.
5) Put them to work. If they can’t get along in play, see if they can get along in work. Summer is a great time for outdoor projects. If you have one that your boys can do together, put them to work! Maybe there is a pile of wood that needs to be moved. Maybe you have a fence that needs painting. Anything that they can do as a team will help build their relationship. Tell them that once the project is completed, you will all go out for ice cream to celebrate.
Finally, if you are a believer, I would encourage you to pray with and for your kids. Tell them that it is God’s desire that they have peace in their relationship. Pray for peace and study passages on peace in the Scripture together. My favorite verse on this topic is from Psalm 34:14: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Pursue. We are to chase after peace. It won’t come to us; we have to go and chase it down. Make sure your boys know the blessings that come from peace. Then put on your running shoes and run with them in the pursuit of peace.
I hope that these tips help!
And make sure to check out our own conflict resolution program!
[Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com]