Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Decreasing sibling arguments

"I want that."
"You can't play with me."
"No!"
"That's not fair."
"Mom - she's being mean to me!"

What do you do with sibling argument? 


I wish I could say that there was some magic technique that would make sibling arguments go away! (Other than not having siblings in the first place.) Even if your child doesn't have siblings, though, they are going to have arguments with their friends!

So arguments are a fact of life. But. . . they can happen less often with some simple changes.

Question #1: What are the majority of sibling arguments about?


According to research, the majority or arguments are about things. Kids tend to not like to share, and the majority of fights turn out to be about who can play with what. This might include one child grabbing something another child is playing with and it turning into a tug a war. Or it could be someone asking to play with something and the other child saying no or any number of scenarios.

Here is a scene that happened in my house just the other day. (Yes, I wish I could say that my 3 and 5 year-olds have learned all of these techniques and don't need me to help any more. . . but they still do argue. On the other hand, they and I have a strategy that works for deescalating the arguments.)

Mateo was playing with a push car riding around the house. Natalia was watching and wanted to play.
Natalia walked up and started to grab the car.
Mateo said, "No. I'm playing with this."
"I want to push the car."
"No. You can't play with the car. It's mine."
"No it's not. I want it."
"No." (Starting to talk louder)

As you can imagine, this could have devolved into a pushing match, a shouting match or an escalated argument very quickly. But it didn't, because of the magic sharing strategy.

What is the magic sharing strategy?


It is a set of words with a very formulaic response that the kids have learned and practiced over and over.

  • Parent: "Say, may I have a turn."
  • Child 1: "May I have a turn?"
  • Parent: "Remember, you can say yes or in 10 seconds."
  • Child 2 has two choices and can say: "Yes"    or     "Yes, in 10 seconds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10" 

Does this eliminate all fights? NO.

Does this decrease fights and give kids a strategy for solving fights? YES!

FAQ about the strategy

What if my child won't give the object after counting to 10?

If your child will not share the object after 10, it is either and automatic time out or the object is put away for the rest of the day, or for a period of time. Before you do this, though, you need to teach your child to follow the procedure. This means you demonstrate with some stuffed animals, or you role play with your child.

Should my child be expected to share everything?

No. In my household each child is allowed to have one object that the child call "special to me." That object can not change over the course of the day. For Natalia, her blanket is "special to her." For Mateo it is frequently a particular stuffed animal that is "special to him." All other objects are expected to be shared.

Other times, if we have having a play date, I may ask the children to put away anything they are not willing to share. If the object is out during the play date, they are expected to share the object.

Won't the kids just ask for the object back and forth every ten seconds?

They might! This is not a problem! They are practicing how to share, and hopefully having fun playing with each other at the same time.

Isn't 10 seconds a really short amount of time?

Sure it is. You could choose a different amount of time, but I have found that to be a good amount of time for my children and the students I've worked with. Normally, the kids will trade back and forth a few times and then either play together or find a different object to play with.

What if the child won't count to 10?

If the child with the object won't count to 10, then the child that is waiting or the adult, can slowly count to 10.

This technique will not solve all arguments, but it will decrease the number of arguments in your household and give you a technique for dealing with the most common type of sibling arguments.

Here is a review of the technique:


If children start to argue about a toy. . .

  • Parent: "Say, may I have a turn."
  • Child 1: "May I have a turn?"
  • Parent: "Remember, you can say yes or in 10 seconds."
  • Child 2 has two choices and can say: "Yes"    or     "Yes, in 10 seconds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10"