I changed two things. Suddenly, the boys’ arguments dropped to a minimum

How to make sure your kids don’t “eat each other alive,”
so you can stop worrying

Do you still remember the excitement you felt when you were expecting your second baby? Maybe you were thinking something like: “I’m so happy our son won’t grow up to be the only child. They will play together and learn they are not the center of the universe.”

Sure, but – after a few months or years, it somehow got out of control. You probably feel like your head is going to explode when you hear things like “Ouch! Mom, he kicked me!” or “That’s not true, he started it!” 

Of course, there are also those nice moments.

  • When they make foam hats while taking a bubble bath together.
  • When the older one stands up for the younger one at a playground.
  • When they are one-upping each other about who can make bigger circles when throwing rocks into the water.

But then comes that day again when

brothers and sisters argue, don’t talk to each other, or tell on each other and expect their parents to take sides.

“Why can’t you get along?” mom thinks to herself miserably in the kitchen, where she's counting to 10 to calm down. Nothing is like she and her husband imagined it...

If this is the story of your life, don’t lose hope:

There is a peaceful solution to the sibling wars

Parents who have been through the Aparenting course know what it is.

And one of them, Bara, agreed to share her story with you. The two simple things she tried made her life at least 80% easier, she says :)

Pushing, shoving and scuffles between her kids are less common and less severe.

This is how Bara and her boys did it:

She wrote this message to all the desperate parents who are fed up with their kids constantly arguing:

My boys fight too. The younger one, Krystof (4), provokes the older one, Tomas (6), to the very best of his ability. He really enjoys it. And, of course, the older one makes him pay for it. Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me when he sometimes lashes out. I’m just wondering how much more he can take...

One day, the boys were tussling over a car like wild animals. And I had had enough. I was sick and tired of settling their never-ending arguments and simply gave in. I didn’t want to be their judge anymore. So I thought to myself – you don’t have to be!

I decided to leave it completely up to them. They can settle their arguments by themselves. Because I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I simply told them:

“Tomas, Krystof, I am fed up with being your judge. It really breaks my heart to see you arguing and fighting, and I wish things were different. But I don’t know how to do it. So I’m giving up. I was thinking that you could settle your arguments on your own. I have a feeling you could manage. What do you say?”

They agreed to give it a try. So from that day, I just quietly observed everything – of course, I was ready to jump in should things get really bad and somebody was about to get hurt.
During the first week, they were arguing and fighting the same way as before.

And I held myself back from interfering in the situation. But you should have heard what I was thinking!

Unuttered fears and concerns that they would get hurt... During the next month, I experienced it all:

  • First week without mom’s intervention: I’m scared out of my wits that if I don’t step in, they will push themselves around until one of them bangs their head on a coffee table, door or the kitchen counter.
  • Second week: Nothing serious happened so far. They bumped against the couch a few times, but nothing out of the ordinary. It doesn’t make much of a difference if I say things like: “Watch out, you’re going to hurt your brother!” or nothing at all. It doesn’t really change the number of “war wounds” they end up with.They fight almost every day.
    I’m starting to hear that tiny little voice inside my head: “Unless you step in, it’s going to be a lot worse... What if they grow up to be thugs?” So sometimes I can’t stop myself from stepping in.
  • Third week: The kids are confused and don’t know what to think. Should they settle their arguments by themselves or should they rely on mom? The children are puzzled, and I am unhappy. I’m taking another deep breath and making up my mind that this time, I will really stay out of it. I will let them fully experience the responsibility for what they say and how they treat each other.
  • Fourth week: The boys are trying to come to an agreement: “What if I have the car first, and when the minute hand gets to number six, you get your turn? Is that okay?” I’m starting to see the light at the end of this long tunnel...

Their pushing and shoving pushed me to make a great discovery

One evening, the older one pushed the younger one, and as he was falling, he stepped on a traffic sign that was part of a “street” his older brother had built. He was extremely proud of what he had built, but instead of yelling, he ran to his younger brother to help.

He started crying and called out to me: “Mommy! Mom! Krystof is bleeding! I pushed him, and he fell on a traffic sign. Mommy, come here!” Before I got to them, I heard him talking softly: “Don’t worry, buddy, it will be okay. I’m here with you. I’m right here. Mommy will take care of it, and you’ll feel better soon. Mommy, tell me he’s going to be okay. Please, I’m really scared for him!”

It wasn’t anything serious, and his foot was better in just a few days. But I will remember this accident until the end of my days. It helped me understand that their rough-housing bothered mostly me. Just because they’re fighting and arguing, it doesn’t mean they don’t love and care about each other.

I guess I imagined brotherly love would be all sunshine and puppies.

They should always be nice to each other and stick together through thick and thin. Like Frodo and Sam.

And the smallest deviation from this ideal is bad. And so it upset me when instead of two sweet angels, I was pulling apart two wild dogs. :)

A month into our experiment, I realized that they were still arguing, but ever since that incident with the cut heel, it was somewhat different. Their arguing was a lot milder. They still fight, but it only lasts a minute or so, and after that they are enjoying each other's company, laughing and having fun.

Then it clicked. This is how they’re slowly learning to communicate. I gave them the opportunity

to learn to address and handle problems by themselves, in a safe environment and without feeling intimidated by a grownup supervising the whole process

and telling them right from wrong.

First thing: “Do not interfere” worked for us even in the long term

After a few months, the number of arguments decreased by approximately 80%, and they are shorter and much less violent. I don’t interfere, but I do keep an eye on them. And each of my sons gets a big serving of one-on-one attention. And love.

Because I’ve noticed another important thing: It doesn’t really matter whether or not I divide the one-on-one time with my sons equally.

I would often try really hard to split the time between my boys fairly. Soon I realized it was like giving water to the hungry.

I was giving love to the child who didn’t “need” it at that moment, while leaving out the child who could use a cuddle.

This sometimes means that I spend a whole day snuggling with one son because he really needs the extra attention. It took me a while to decode the secret of a perfect balance: Every child has a different love language.

Second thing: I figured out what each of them sees as love

Generally speaking, I thought the main way children receive love was through physical contact: hugs, kisses or snuggling. But my older son is not like my younger one – he doesn’t need a lot of cuddles. However, he loves when I sit next to him and watch quietly while he’s doing something without joining in (he likes to be in charge of his games and rarely asks me to be part of it).

That’s what assures him he’s loved and important to me. When I do that, he glows. Whereas when I hug or kiss him, he doesn’t really pay attention and sometimes even growls grumpily: “No, mom, stop it!” (though I still sometimes do it because I enjoy it, and he doesn’t mind too much. Especially when I watch him play.) :)

And the younger one thrives on and loves physical contact.

So when I want to show them my love, I do what makes each one of them happy.

And you know what? I think I finally found the right balance, because the boys are now fighting even less often!

Many times, sibling rivalry stems from jealousy. They feel like they are not getting enough one-on-one attention from their mom. And because I realized that each of them needs a different expression of love, I can now give them exactly what they need.

Every evening, I spend half an hour with each of them. I put Krystof to bed while Tomas is playing on the computer. Krystof likes to read books at bedtime. Tomas, on the other hand, enjoys hearing about the big floods in Prague in 2002 – over and over again.

And we’re all happy.

With great respect and love,

Bara

Right, but it’s not always this rosy

Even if parents try with all their might to settle everything and to pay enough attention to all their children, brothers and sisters can still sometimes be at each other’s throats. It’s pretty much impossible to have a peaceful atmosphere in a family where every other day parents try to settle violent arguments or to find out who hit whom.

If mom and dad want to avoid a breakdown, they need to be on firm ground

Bara and her boys managed. The fact that she was able to change the way they communicated also had a big impact. This is one of the issues we deal with in the Aparenting course.

One whole week out of the five-week course is dedicated to the topic of sibling relationships and communication. Many videos, assignments and exercises will allow you to get to the real root of your trouble. And it will help you dig it out once and for all :).

Just like Petra did after she completed the course. Now her kids can actually talk instead of trying to kill each other:

My three year old twins were tussling over a toy and I wasn’t willing to get involved. I told them I trust them to resolve this on their own. The agreement started with “I want this, it’s mine” on both sides and ended with my daughter asking for an apology from her brother. He just said “sorry” and she gave him the toy. Easy. All it took was asking for empathy and getting it. Even that is a form of agreement. :)

– Petra

Another story – Lenka’s 4-year-old son now comes up with his own agreements instead of kicking his little sister:

I have two amazing children – a son (4y) and a daughter (1 1/2). DS is super easy-going and DD is stubborn (just like her mom). :) I started getting Aparenting e-mails long before my daughter was born. After reading them, I realized I’ve been practicing many of the principles for quite some time. Everything went smoothly until sibling rivalry kicked in. I love my parents very much and I know they did their best bringing me up, but I know I want to take a different path when raising my children. I have never had a close relationship with my brother, partly due to my parents’ parenting methods. I was often lost when trying to step into my children’s arguments without hurting anyone and while being fair.

Whenever there was a conflict, I sighed and thought to myself that if I had already taken the course, I would have known how to handle a situation like this. The thought of disrupting the good relationship my children have left me helpless and worried.

(...) I’ve come a long way already. Especially when it comes to dealing with conflicts between my children. My DS (4) is pretty rough with my DD (1 1/2). When he hurts her, she now gets back at him. I’m doing my best to teach them to say what they need and to look for solutions. It amazes me to see my son explaining to his sister that he can’t see the screen because she’s in front of him and that it would help if she sat next to him instead. Before, he would just kick her. :(

Thanks to the course I feel a great deal of support. I have enough information and ways to communicate with my kids so we can all be happy.

– Lenka Cejpova

Would you like the same thing to happen at your home? Sibling rivalry often hides unresolved issues and unhealed wounds. Aparenting can help you even with that.

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About the author

Bara Hamblin, Aparenting Mama and Parent Support

Listens with sensitivity. Supports parents when they need it: by email, during the course, on the Aparenting forum. Mama to two boys.

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Do you think girls argue or fight the same way boys do? :) What is your experience?