If your kids are anything like mine, they can really get on each other’s nerves.
In fact, sometimes it feels as though my children’s main objective in life is to piss each other off as much as possible. And then rat the other one when they finally snap.
It’s really annoying.
Why do they do it? Why do they bicker and argue and poke and prod and nudge until the other kid can’t take it any more and explodes?
It could be for a number of reasons.
It could be because your kids are trying to get revenge on each other.
We had a revenge situation here last night.
While I was at swim practice, Number 3 and Number 6 got into a fight while they were playing ping pong.
But as soon as I walked in the door at 8:30, Number 3 immediately ran into the mudroom before I even had a chance to close the door behind me.
“MOM! Where is my book?” he yelled.
I hadn’t been home for the last four hours, so I had no idea what the heck he was talking about.
My husband was putting Number 6 and 7 into bed.
I went upstairs and looked all over Number 3’s room and the book was nowhere, although he insisted that he had been reading it earlier. He also told me he had straightened his bed out earlier, and it was now a total mess.
And then he briefed me on the ping pong fight.
I sensed foul play.
When Number 6 gets pissed, he hides things. It’s his go-to revenge move.
Last week when he was giving me a hard time at breakfast, I took his Cheerios away. He immediately retaliated by grabbing the whole box and running into another room.
“I HID THE CHEERIOS AND NOW NOBODY CAN HAVE THEM!” he yelled at me.
I got sidetracked by something after that and forgot about the Cheerios, and I found them a couple days ago hidden on a shelf in the playroom.
So anyway, knowing that Number 3 and 6 had gotten into a fight earlier, I had a feeling Number 6 may have retaliated with a little game of hide and seek with Number 3’s book.
I didn’t want to interrupt my husband who was getting Number 6 and 7 into bed because once you veer off the routine, you never know what’s going to happen, but Number 3 needed his book for school the next day.
I tiptoed into Number 6 and 7’s room.
Number 7 was already out cold.
I asked Number 6 if he had any idea where Number 3’s book was.
He pretended to look confused.
And then he said, “Oh yeah… I think I remember seeing it… ummm…. in the corner of Number 5’s closet.”
Right. Because that’s a typical place to be hanging out or to store books.
Sure enough, I went into Number 5’s closet, and there was Number 3’s book, hidden under some shoes.
Anyway, the point of the story is that kids sometimes fight to get back at each other.
Sometimes it’s more of a symbolic thing — they may be fighting for their “spot” in the family — this may be the case more so with our family since we have lots of kids.
Other times they mistakenly believe that it’s the only way to solve problems.
Whatever the reason, it’s extremely frustrating.
And what I didn’t realize until recently is that I am often (unknowingly) contributing to the problem the way I’ve typically been handling it.
First, I am way easier on the younger kids than I am on the older kids.
This makes the problem worse because now you are helping to create a situation where the kids are competing to be the “right” one, or you are creating a bully/victim situation. You might be inadvertently encouraging fighting rather than doing something to stop it.
So if you, like me, are finding yourself frustrated by kids who are fighting, and if you have kids constantly coming to you to tell on their siblings, I have some suggestions that may work better for you in the long run.
Because they are working better for me. And while the fighting and arguing in the moment is super draining, what is more frustrating and exhausting is having it happen over and over again.
So what can you do?
- When your kids start fighting, give them two options: Either find a way to cooperate, or go fight outside. If you decide to fight, I don’t want to hear it.
- Silently leave the room. This one has been really effective for me, because as soon as the kids know I’m not paying attention to them, they lose most of their reason for fighting!
- Say to them, I am confident you two can work this out. Whoah! My kids did not like this at first. But when they realized I wasn’t going to intervene, the tattling started happening much less frequently!
- If you do need to intervene (like if the kids start beating the crap out of each other), treat both kids involved equally. Because while you may think you know who “started it”, unless you were right there, you never really know. And the kid who is poking, poking, poking, poking until the other kid snaps is really just as much a part of the problem as the kid who starts swinging first. Start with the younger kid so you are not favoring. And say something like You need to go to your room until you are ready to stop fighting. Repeat this with the other kid. You aren’t punishing them or putting them in a time out. You are helping them get to a calmer place.
- Put the kids in the same room and tell them they can come out when they have a solution.
- Take away the thing the kids are fighting over and tell them they can have it back when they come up with a solution to share it or play nicely without arguing. (I helped my kids with this at first and gave them suggestions: Do you need some suggestions? Would it help if you set a timer and took turns? Now when they are fighting over something and they come to me and I say I am confident you can find a way to work this out, they often look at each other and say, Do you want to set the timer? ) They are learning!
- Obviously if your kids are about to seriously injure each other, then you’ll have to intervene!
These strategies will not only take you out of the equation, they will also help your kids learn problem solving and cooling off skills they are going to need (as those of us who are married can attest) throughout the rest of their lives!
Find lots of other effective solutions to common parenting problems in this book: