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Ask the Experts

How can I get my sons to stop arguing?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My two boys are in kindergarten and third grade. They constantly argue. I have tried so many things. I have even separated them by giving them their own rooms so each one has his own space. It hasn't really helped. I would like to know: Is this normal and how should I go about disciplining them?

Answer:

Giving each of your sons his own private space was a great start, but as you mentioned it didn't solve the problem.

There are multiple causes for sibling squabbling and some amount of it is common. Often siblings have competitive needs and temperaments and it helps to look at their issues from a developmental perspective.

For example, a kindergartner is more eager to please and may still want mommy, but a third-grader is seeking more independence and has more school challenges. While the third-grader may also at times want his mommy, it suddenly is perceived as babyish and he may resent the sibling who gets mom's attention more freely. These may not be your children's issues, but this perspective may clarify what developmental needs are not being met.

You might also try making once-a-month dates with each child so each can have your undivided attention.

Try weekly family meetings to go over the rules of family life, such as chores, routines and schedules. It is also important to review your expectations about their behavior and the consequences of not adhering to it. Sibling difficulties can be addressed at this time as well. Many siblings fight over who owns what and what is to be shared. At the meeting you can clarify this and the natural consequences of undesired behavior.

We are not born knowing about conflict resolution; it is a learned skill. As a family you can decide how you are going to resolve conflicts and problem-solve appropriate solutions. How you model this behavior in your day-to-day life helps them get a sense of how you want them to resolve their differences. For more ideas, check out Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/30/2007:
"I have two boys, 6 and 3. My six year old is going to First grade this year by the grace of his teacher. They argue consistantly, I am a single mother working, going to school, and being a mother. They do not have a strong father figure to look to, and family meetings are hard to do. But I need help! They argue, they don't listen, they call eachother names, and call me names too. Please help!"
03/22/2007:
"My daughters are the same grades. They also share a room and we had the problems this mom mentioned. Fighting and fussing and accusations of who made what mess and so on. So I came up with a plan that worked wonders. I don't know how the 'experts' will feel about it but it worked and that is all I needed! I bought some play money and labled a small jar as 'mean money' Every time the kids were mean to anyone, whether it was each other, backtalking parents or didn't behave during church or grocery store or anything like that, they had to put a dollar in the jar for mean money. To 'earn' the money they only had to keep their room clean and do their homework and be nice and respectful to everyone. After a certain period of time whatever money they had saved would be exchanged for real money and used for something fun or books at the school book fair or Scholastic orderforms. This was wonderful. They very rarely lost money due to the 'mean money' jar. We had a family meeting to discuss the rules and make sure they understood what was expected and it worked wonders for us. We no longer need the money/jar because they don't fuss as much now. We had limits on what the money went for. No junk or toys. I love books. Most parents will go out and buy tons of movies/videos/dvds. I know families that buy every Disney movie that is available. I buy books. We love to read and I push the AR program at our school big time! So far the money they earned has bought the girls the entire set of Junie B. Jones (by Barbara Parks) books and we have about half of the Dr. Suess books. So make sure the money isn't just a 'reward' but make it count for something. Something EDUCATIONAL!! "
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