My three children seem to bicker constantly and it’s driving my husband and me crazy. They’re 11, 9 and 7 and the older two are boys. If they’re not scrapping with each other, punching and giggling but invariably crying in the end, they’re taunting and baiting their little sister. It seems that as soon as I’ve sorted out one combination of tension there’s another, and I’m sick of playing referee. We were going to go to a friend’s beach house for the holidays, but I cancelled it because I just couldn’t bear the thought of how things might be if it rained and they were stuck inside. Is this normal? What should I do?
Frustrated, by email
I am glad that you are sick of being the referee, because I would like you to stop taking on the problem of sorting out your children’s disputes. I’d prefer that you stop making their fighting worthwhile to them and leave them to work out how they are going to get control of themselves If someone runs to you to get away from a marauding sibling, they have done a very wise thing – run from a dangerous situation. Listen to what happened and offer a cuddle. They can decide whether to go back to the battle or go elsewhere.
When you see unkind words or physicality, send the culprit child to their room till they have control over their mouth and limbs. When you hear a physical or verbal situation starting to occur, don’t hope it will go away. Get in early. Don’t try to attribute blame or to sort it out. Simply say, “This isn’t working,” and split them into their separate rooms and set a timer for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, call out: “Time’s up.” By refusing to allow scrapping and unkind words, you improve your chances of a peaceful household. Either your children will stop fighting or they will learn to fight very quietly so that you don’t interrupt them.
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