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When Siblings Don't Get Along: Part 1- Why do My Children Argue So Much?

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The Boyer Blog: When Siblings Don't Get Along: Part 1- Why do My Children Argue So Much?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When Siblings Don't Get Along: Part 1- Why do My Children Argue So Much?

"Why do my children argue so much?!"
It may be simply because you let them. 
Sometimes when your children have conflicts you can plainly identify the cause.  One or both has really done wrong to the other and for the situation to be properly handled, somebody needs to confess fault and possibly make restitution. Would that all arguments could be so easily diagnosed!
But then there are those times—those irritating, frustrating times—when siblings bicker and bicker over nothing significant at all.  They’re irritated with each other, but for the life of you, you can’t figure out how it started and just what it would take to settle the issue to the satisfaction of both.  Or even one of them! 
Children are in the process of growing up, and that includes learning how to resolve conflicts with others.  And it is the most natural thing in the world for the family to be the first arena in which they practice.  They need the opportunity to exercise and develop their skills at negotiation, their ability to express frustration appropriately, and even their ability to forgive.  If conflicts never happened in the family, the acquiring of these important interpersonal skills would have to wait until the children encountered conflicts with others outside the family.  That’s not God’s plan.
But there are times when it’s obvious that there is no progress being made toward resolution and the two siblings in question are just venting their irritation with each other.  They are petulant, irritable and prickly.  That’s when it’s time to call a halt.

I believe in giving kids time to settle their arguments on their own.  It’s good for them.  But I don’t allow spiteful bickering to go on indefinitely.  Very shortly after it becomes evident that progress has halted while the fuming goes full speed ahead, I will say something like, “Hey, you guys.  You’ve had time to settle this already. Now I suggest you settle it in the next sixty seconds or so, or I will settle it for you.”
They know that I will try to be fair, but that the end result may not be exactly what either party wants.  Usually they manage to resolve things before the sixty seconds are up.

I know a lady who raised five children on the family farm.  When her children were growing up, she would sometimes say something like, “Well, we have a lot of fighting going on here.  Somebody must have too much energy going to waste.  Jerry, why don’t you go out and hoe the potatoes?  Amanda, your room could stand a good cleaning.  Tommy and Ed, the chicken house needs to be cleaned out.  Let’s not let all this great energy be wasted on arguments!”  Usually when the chores were done they found that they didn’t really have an urge to renew the battle.
Moral of the story:  If you can find a root cause in the argument, deal with it.  But if it’s more of a petty bickering situation than a true justice issue, give them some time to settle their differences and let them know you’ll do it if they can’t.  They may surprise both you and themselves with the rapid improvement in their conflict resolution skills. 

~Rick Boyer



Blogger Rachel said...

I have young children, at what age do start having the kids resolve the argument. I have a strong willed 5 year-old and a laid back 3 year old and I find if I have them resolve the argument usually the five year old just tells the 3 year old what to do and he gives in.

March 16, 2011 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

At what age do you let the children resolve their arguments? I have young children and I find if I let them resolve the argument, they either can't, or the older 5 year old tells the laid back 3 year old what to do and he does it.

March 16, 2011 at 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Mama Bear said...

Rachel, We have that situation at our house and found that I needed to be a little bit more involved until my younger son learned to be a little bit more assertive and my oldest learned to be loving and gentle with his brother rather than manipulative with his strength. I didn't always solve the issues for them, but I did do some coaching on the way they discussed them. Respectful assertiveness and understanding gentleness are skills in and of themselves that our kids need to learn! When you start to see these being exhibited, they are ready to resolve conflict on their own. :)

March 16, 2011 at 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Rick Boyer said...


I'm not surprised that your children have trouble resolving conflicts. Five and three are pretty young to be able to think at any distance from the emotions. I expect you'll have to coach them though some situations for the next couple of years. Try to think of these occasions as training sessions and make the most of them

March 16, 2011 at 10:46 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Rabe said...

We always try to get to the heart of the issue with our children, not just the surface bickering. It takes more time, than just saying "Stop fighting" but worth it in the end, as it can help your children to learn to see the root of the issue too.

March 18, 2011 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Adorning Grace said...

What a helpful article. I have 8 yo twins and honestly have gotten to my wits end with their bickering. THANK YOU! I can see my stress level dissipating very quickly by putting your suggestions into practice :)

April 9, 2011 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger a humble servant said...

I wonder though....I am realizing after years of letting them work it out themselves that there are the 'pleasers' who do not like conflict and will 'let it go' alot with the more powerful children who then tend to get their way.
Mine are all teens now but I see this pattern has emerged in various of the relationships between one or another of them. What do you do about that?? I feel I have failed two of my children in particular in that they are victimized by the other more bossy ones. I feel bad about this but feel it is maybe 'too late'? Thanks. Julie

April 10, 2011 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger docarcromer said...

Dear Humble Servant,

Never feel you have failed if you are working on trying to fix something...! We are all growing and learning on how to become better parents.....None of us have been the perfect parent for our children, yet we ALL continue to strive. That you are striving and care to find other answers says so much about what a wonderful parent you are and how much you love your children! Don't let the enemy discourage you! :)

As far as ending the pattern of letting other more bossy children victimize the younger ones, I would suggest looking inward and asking yourself if the kids are seeing this pattern somehow being repeated in yourself and/or your husband's relationship. I know often my kids do what I do, rather than what I say..... ugh! (I think that's one of the reasons why God says children are a blessing.... they "force" us to look at ourselves and change our habits into better, more godly ones).

If you can honestly say you don't repeat this pattern yourself, then I would suggest getting involved directly in their arguments and having each child practice being either more assertive and setting up proper biblical boundaries (in the case of the "victimized" ones... they are not victims, though.... they can choose not to be), and having the more assertive children practice letting the others feelings rule, etc. LIterally tell each child what to say when they are in conflict and actually have them say it, so they can start to actually practice a skill they are not used to doing. Along with this speak specific bible verses (that relate to the long-time patterns you have been seeing) into the situation, so the kids see what God has to say about their attitudes. With enough patience, hearing God's word about their particular sin, and time on your part, their hearts will begin to yield to what you have been "forcing" their tongue to say.

I would follow this up with actions in two ways.... have the stronger personality kids practice being a servant to their more amiable siblings (make their beds for them, serve them meals, do their chores, etc.) These could be examples of discipline when they haven't let their other siblings voice be heard, but more importantly also try to make it be a "fun" thing (surprise their sibling with a service- assertive child gets to pick service and do it in secret waiting for less assertive sibling to realize it was done, etc), so serving isn't seen as a negative, but a good, wonderful thing. Then, have the less assertive siblings practice being leaders (make up meal planning, decide where the family will go for dinner/outings/etc, change up the chore chart and let them plan it for everyone with your oversight, of coarse, etc).

Second, find ways they can have fun together building up their friendships. Have them do 2-legged races tied to the other sibling they always fight with, have them form 2 person teams in fun games where the kids that are fighting are each other's team mates, etc.

Last suggestion, since they are teens and I assume have research skills, instead of doing a book review, have them research and study what God's word says about their particular sin and write out answers to your specific questions about them.

Finally, pray, pray, pray for God's wisdom. Ask God to show you the root of the problem in each child's heart and solutions to heal it. He will give the much needed wisdom we parents all need to do our very best. He wants us to be successful parents! God knows what you are able to do and he will help you do it!

Hugs, Angie

June 4, 2011 at 8:53 AM  

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