Squashing squabbles and keeping the peace

Squabbles are a fact of life in most families.  However, the usual rhythm of life helps to provide a buffer, and some light relief.  As a headteacher, lots of parents are sharing their frustration with managing squabbling siblings and as a mum, I am living it.

So as with all parenting dilemmas, I turned to the internet to seek its infinite wisdom; and was grossly disappointed!  There are countless guides and articles related to the subject, but most of them are bursting with waffle and touchy-feely solutions requiring hours of ‘talking and evaluating’.  I am sure these are all very valid approaches and delving into child psychology to find the root of the problem makes sense, but the bottom line is that I just don’t have the time, energy or patience to get into that right now. 

Sadly, it turns out that there isn’t a quick fix and that sibling squabbles are here to stay.  What my trawl did reveal however were a few worthwhile hints and tips which we have tried and tested with some success, and at the moment, I’ll take what I can get!

  1. Identify ‘hot spots’

Are there times of day when squabbles always happen usually a result or tiredness or hunger?  It is 4pm in this house! Be proactive and plan something that will make this time go more smoothly.  Make this your tv slot, game slot or reading time and plan for your children to be apart doing their own thing, if at all possible.  This may give you a little window of peace as you try to finish up work for the day, or get dinner ready, or most likely both!

  1. Stop refereeing and start mediating

Conflict resolution is an important skill and it takes time to develop.  Let’s be honest, many adults are not that great at it either.  When you get involved in a squabble between your children, it is natural to want to try to work out what happened which generally involves identifying who ‘started it’ and then dishing out some form of sanction.  Or in busy moments, you get fed up listening to the rambling tale which is unfolding and end up sending out a general warning shot to all parties before sending them off to start the squabble again.

Generally, it takes 2 (or 3 or 4!) to tango so trying to identify the culprit is hard and often results in one or more child feeling a sense of injustice, causing more squabbles later.

Asking each child what happened and how it made them feel is a good start.  You can then summarise and help the children work out what to do next which has the added benefit of helping the children learn how to resolve conflict through modelling the behaviour.  It doesn’t take as long as you think and often saves time as the children are more likely to get on with things afterwards.  Once you get into the swing of this, you will become expert in knowing when to ignore a squabble and when to intervene and as your children get better at the skill, they will become more able to work things out on their own.

  1. Learning from mistakes

Once the dust settles, ask your child/children how they could have handled things differently.  This one is a slow burner, but worth doing whenever you get a chance.

  1. Optional time out

This is my favourite in the current climate and is perfect for low level but continuous squabbles.  Have a ‘time out’ spot for each child somewhere that they can see each other.  They either play nicely or sit on the spot.  Sometimes we have to do these 2 or 3 times in close succession but ultimately, they want to play together so eventually get the message.

  1. Clear rules

Hitting or hurting someone is always wrong.  Have a clear sanction for this and always follow through.  A time out somewhere quiet is usually best as it also gives your child an opportunity to calm down.  Most hitting is a result of a child losing their temper, so talking about this at a quiet time is really important, as well as giving your child a consistent strategy to use.  Most children love to get their siblings into trouble, and you will often find that a child who struggles with their temper has a sibling who knows how to quietly push their buttons.  Helping a child to learn to manage their emotions can require time and patience.

  1. Privacy

No one likes being told off and it is even worse being told off in front of a sibling who is revelling in watching the whole thing. 

  1. Space

It is really hard being cooped up with the same people all of the time and children are feeling this too.  Try to give them some time away from each other and a bit of time with you.  Even 10 minutes can make a difference and help keep things at a simmer.

  1. Children have bad days too……

It is fair to say that we have all had days which we have found hard since the lockdown and maybe we have been snappy, grumpy, irritable and lacking in motivation.  Our children are no different, only they aren’t really allowed to behave like that.  Condoning bad behaviour is not wise, but tip toeing around each other a little on the odd bad day is just kind.  If you are having a bad day and have dealt with something unfairly, then admit it to your children and say you are sorry.  Children are remarkably understanding, and you are setting a really good example.

  1. Look in the mirror

This one hurts.  There is nothing worse than hearing your child speak in an unpleasant tone or come out with a phrase that you recognise.  Children learn through modelling the behaviours they see around them. 

  1. Shouting doesn’t work

We all know that.  It doesn’t mean we don’t do it, we are human after all, but it is worth pointing it out!

Ailsa Lawn, Head of Junior School 

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