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Three strategies for stopping sibling squabbles

If the cold weather isn't enough to make you go crazy, now your kids are cooped up too -- which makes it the season for sibling rivalry. Why can't our children just get along? Amy McCready talked to TODAY's Natalie Morales about reducing sibling conflict; here she offers more details on how to do it. By Amy McCready, Positive Parenting Solutions founder and TODAYMoms contributorHere's the bad ne
Amy McCready
Amy McCreadyToday

If the cold weather isn't enough to make you go crazy, now your kids are cooped up too -- which makes it the season for sibling rivalry. Why can't our children just get along? Amy McCready talked to TODAY's Natalie Morales about reducing sibling conflict; here she offers more details on how to do it. 

By Amy McCready, Positive Parenting Solutions founder and TODAYMoms contributor

Here's the bad news: parents are often to blame in unknowingly encouraging sibling squabbles. The good news? That means a few tweaks to our parenting style can make a big difference in family harmony.

1.  Stay Out of Fights.

As long as no one is getting hurt, your best bet is to stay out of the disagreement. By not getting involved, you do several things to actually reduce the likelihood of fights occurring in the future. First, you eliminate the attention your kids get for their negative behavior. Second, you automatically avoid assigning victim and aggressor roles. And finally, you give your kids a very valuable opportunity to work out their conflicts on their own.

Staying out of your kids’ fights may be hard at first—they grate on our ears and our nerves—but soon you’re likely to feel liberated as you take a deep breath and listen from the other room so you can gauge whether you involvement is really needed. You may be surprised to learn that in most cases it isn’t.

Make sure you warn your kids upfront that you’ll be staying out of their conflicts by saying, “You guys are really growing up and I know you can work out fights on your own. So from now on, I’m not going to get involved in your disagreements.  I’m confident you will be able to work it out.”

2. Sportscasting & Solutions

Amy McCreadyToday

Although you’ll be ignoring most of your kids’ squabbles, there will still be times when you do have to step in, either because they can’t work it out after giving it a good try, or the fight is spiraling out of control.  But instead of playing judge and jury like you may be used to doing, you need to adopt the attitude of an impartial sportscaster. 

First, let each child tell his or her story beginning with an “I feel” statement:  “I feel angry because…,” or “I feel sad because….”  Then, just as a sportscaster objectively remarks on both sides of the game, you’ll play commentator, ending with your expectation that your kids will reach a resolution together: “Jason, it sounds like you’re angry because you were playing the video game first and your brother interrupted you.  Steven it sounds like you’re frustrated because you want to have fun with your brother but he’s not letting you play.  Now, what ideas do you guys have to solve this problem?”

Once you’ve brought the conversation to this point, sit back and see what your children come up with.  If they begin a “he-said,” “she-said” contest, simply reply, “I’m not interested in who did what to whom, I’m only interested in solutions.  What ideas do you have to solve this problem? 

If they can’t come up with anything, go ahead and offer up a few suggestions:  “What do you think of taking turns with the game using a timer – would that work?”  If they can’t agree on a solution, then it’s time to move on to the third strategy – All in the Same Boat.

3. All in the Same Boat

Sometimes, kids refuse to agree on a solution to solve their problem, even after you get involved. When this happens, you need to employ the All in the Same Boat technique, which will allow each child to face the same consequence because each child fueled the conflict one way or another.

All in the Same Boat is a powerful tool for ending conflicts because kids have more to gain by cooperating than by fighting.  For instance, with the previous video game example you could end the argument by saying, “Either you guys figure out a way to solve this problem together or the video games are off limits for the rest of the day for both of you.”

There’s no victim and aggressor, winner and loser.  Either everyone wins if they cooperate on a solution, or everyone loses if they continue arguing.

While All in the Same Boat is quick and effective—and tempting to use right away—it’s important to first allow your kids to work out their fights on their own, and then give them a little help if they need it through Sportscasting. All in the Same Boat should be a last resort so that by the time you use it, your children have already had plenty of opportunities to reach an agreement.

With just a few adjustments to your own habits and attitudes about sibling spats, you can work your way to a more peaceful home. Better yet, your kids will be learning the skills they need to negotiate disagreements they face far into the future, as well as developing more harmonious relations with their siblings.

Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and mom to two boys, ages 12 and 15. Online training from Positive Parenting Solutions helps parents of toddlers to teens correct misbehavior without nagging, reminding or yelling. For more sibling rivalry strategies and free training resources, visit: www.PositiveParentingSolutions.com.