My biggest challenge right now that I am dealing with as a parent is the intense fighting and competition between my 6 and 9 year old boys. They bicker, compete for our attention and are mean to each other constantly. Any advice would be appreciated.
Anonymous, state not provided
These are such common, but frustrating, problems! Most kids are wired for competition, and they are most likely to compete with siblings. Being the same gender can intensify that urge. And you’re absolutely right – your attention is the biggest prize.
You mention four problems:
Bickering and fighting are not actually the same thing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Bickering IS annoying to listen to, but it’s not intentionally hurtful. So first, figure out if what you’re hearing is bickering or fighting, and then address that issue once you know. For bickering, find out if it’s acceptable to both kids and then – if it is – ask them to do it where no one else can hear them.
Whether your boys are yelling hurtful things at each other or actually throwing punches, you’re right that this is not acceptable. It is helpful to have really concrete rules about hitting, just as you did when they were smaller. “No hurting” is a good rule for any home. And consequences have to go along with that. No matter who started it, if someone throws a punch – or a nasty insult – he has to sit through some kind of consequence.
However, it’s not enough to tell kids what they can’t do – we have to teach them the behavior we want them to demonstrate. So in addition to “no fighting” they need to know how to be angry – and express it. Do your kids have the words to express really strong emotions respectfully? I understand that they’re not using those words now, but do they know how? This is the hardest work for us as parents – building the skills they need to replace disrespectful behaviors with respectful ones.
This is really the same issue as fighting, but can be easier to miss as a parent. Kids are often quietly mean to each other out of anger. Siblings are often mean to one another when they are angry with someone or something else entirely. Again, we have to teach our kids how to communicate with respect, even if we’re angry or hurt or ashamed. This involves some rules, and some great consequences for treating each other well and unpleasant consequences for treating someone else badly.
Here’s the good news. You do not need to teach your boys to stop competing. Competition can be really great for kids! If you can teach them to treat each other respectfully, they can compete all they like!
All of this is really hard, and these changes don’t happen quickly. But like any change in our family dynamic, try these steps:
- Name the behavior that needs to stop.
- Make sure the adults in the house aren’t behaving that way.
- Identify the behavior you hope will replace the bad one.
- Come up with a list of great consequences for when a child demonstrates the new behavior, and unhappy consequences for when the old habit shows up.
- Explain #1, 3, and 4 to your kids clearly.
- Follow through on #2 and #4, and don’t give up!
Parents, have you changed the culture at your house from fighting to respect?