When my children don’t get enough sleep, they are animals. When they get hangry? Forget about it. When the mood strikes them, they proclaim a trade embargo on any exchange of toys, books, food, or clothing item. There are times when they are little angels who float on clouds, and there are those times when they crash to the earth in a conflagration of chaos. In short, they fight. And they can fight hard.
When those tear-streaked faces come whining at my door, I have two ways of handling them. In my weaker moments, I flip a switch and start yelling about spoiled brats and issuing commands. In my better moments, I patiently sit with each one, attempting to guide them to reason. Those are my best parenting moments when I’m in the “parenting zone.” I become Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger wrapped into one. This article pertains to the strategies I use in those moments.
1. Three Genuine Compliments
In order to foster a ceasefire, try to get your children into a different headspace. During a fight, negative complaints run on a perpetual loop in your child’s head. It’s like they’re magnetically stuck to the memory of the offense- unable to let it go. Help them flip the magnet. This requires a few steps. First, get the offending parties in the same room. Then, help them remember and share three things that they love and/or appreciate about each other. It should be three compliments because one compliment doesn’t break the negative thought cycle long enough. A child can always quickly say something superficial and then refocus on the original offense with one compliment. Three compliments about each kid shake them out of their mood and give them a better perspective. You may have to help brainstorm the first compliment if they are particularly rabid. When the first set of compliments is shared, it warms the heart of the antagonizing party, who can now easily share three compliments about her opponent. Once this process has been completed, it is much easier to solve whatever catastrophe occurred before because the kids are in a better headspace.
2. Nice Memory
If your child is obstinate about brainstorming three compliments, it might be easier for them to conjure a happy memory about their sibling. Try to help them remember when the sibling was generous, kind, loyal, or loving. If they are still refusing, you can bring up the incident and have the offended party recount it aloud. The storytelling can redirect their thoughts to a happier, more pleasant time, interrupting their negative thought spiral and replacing it with a pleasant memory. This shift in thinking can make kids more pliable when compromising and problem-solving.
3. Time Out
Sometimes it’s just too hard for children to overcome a bad mood and one fight starts before another one ends. Moods like this can lead you to feel like you’re putting out a million small fires all day long. Instead of intervening in every small dispute between your children, have them take some space. Depending on your kid and her attitude, this can look different. If their behavior requires discipline, then a good old timeout can do the trick. Even if they don’t mind being sent to their room without stimuli, it still works as a time to separate dueling forces and relax their nervous system. Try giving something to reflect upon while they’re in time out. How the conflict could be avoided, what could be done next time, or how to move forward can be some helpful areas of reflection during a timeout. Mindful breathing exercises or prayers also help to recenter a child’s mind. Kids might yell in frustration at the suggestion, but they may just utilize them anyway.
Related: 10 Signs You’re a Great Parent
4. To Your Corners
Another way to create some space without using a timeout is by implementing an extended physical separation. Move one set of toys to one room in the house, and move another set elsewhere. Assign each kid a room and keep them separated for a scheduled amount of time. You can decide how long the separation needs to be depending on their age, mood, and disposition. I recommend at least 20 minutes. This allows the kids to reset their perspectives and come back together with a clearer head. If they start to fight once they are reunited, separate them again for a little longer. Usually, the threat of more alone time makes dueling siblings figure out how to work together and solve without parental intervention.
5. Bonding Time
If there is an increase in fighting over the course of a few days, and you feel more like a referee than a parent, it might be time for some individual attention. Have one parent take one child out on a special date. You can go for a hike, go for a walk, go shopping, go out to eat, etc. It doesn’t have to cost a penny: it just has to give your child some special attention and one-on-one time. You don’t have to bring up the recent fighting. Sometimes your kid needs to feel like the center of your attention. Struggling with your work schedule to find this time? Make it a short event. You might be surprised at how even 15 minutes can rearrange a kid’s attitude.
6. The Threat
Now the first five strategies are things I utilize when I am in my patient, supermom mode. But don’t be fooled- there are many days when my patience wears thin, and my temper gets the better of me. These days, there is one strategy that exacts positive results, so I just had to share. The threat is that if my children are ping-ponging back and forth to me with their complaints, whines, and arguments, I find that threatening them with a different task (usually a chore) tends to motivate their reconciliation. When I say, “If you can’t play together nicely, then both of you go and (insert chore here).” I usually go with “clean your room,” “fold this laundry,” “weed that garden,” or “wash these windows.” You can insert whatever chore you like, and if your children are anything like mine, they will win the Nobel Peace Prize before cleaning up.
Sibling squabbling is never fun, and constant fighting can wear on even the most patient parent’s nerves. Give some of these strategies a try to see if you can use your inner “parenting zone” to neutralize your children’s war zone.