My two boys are so mean to each other. I do not know how to break the cycle. Besides, I used to misbehave myself in the past, and that has been transferred to my son.
I am pretty desperate. I should have started when they were young, but now they are too old to learn new tricks. Help!
Please don’t despair. Wherever there’s life, there’s hope.
When our children were younger, consistently applying the tips in this post were enough to keep any fighting to a bare minimum. Our kids would still wrestle and rough house from time to time — especially the boys, as that sort of play seems to be hardwired into their natures — but it was seldom done in a mean-spirited way.
At some point, though, if kids haven’t learned to get along, the conflicts escalate. They go from occasionally squabbling over toys to acting as if they despise one another.
Even then, with lots of prayer, patience, and perseverance, I believe the situation can be turned around.
Here are six things to keep in mind as you tackle the problem:
- Hormones make it harder.
Emotions run high when kids enter puberty, and that isn’t just true for girls. Anytime our family has had an issue with two siblings struggling to get along, either one or both of them has been in that transitional phase. I say this not to justify bad behavior, but to raise awareness of a big contributing factor.
I recommend sitting the offenders down and explaining to them why they suddenly feel so sensitive about things they normally wouldn’t give a second thought. Explain that their hormones will eventually settle down as they adjust to their changing bodies, but in the meantime, they need to show one another a little grace and do their best not to purposely provoke each other.
- Set a good example.
I understand that constant bickering takes a toll on even the steadiest of nerves, but you must make sure your reaction to the strife isn’t compounding it.
If your children are yelling and fighting and out of control, they do not need a parent yelling and cursing and out of control, as well. Keep your cool and deal with the fighting in a calm and rational way.
- Separation sometimes helps.
During those hormonal phases, it may be necessary to shuffle room assignments to provide a little extra buffer for the two who seem to continually be getting on one another’s nerves. Sometimes older kids will boss younger ones around and treat them like slaves; sometimes younger kids will intentionally pick at older ones just to get a rise out of them. Neither of these dynamics is healthy for either party. Giving each a little space allows both to mature beyond any antagonizing behaviors while (hopefully) sparing the relationship permanent damage.
- Evaluate peer influences.
For reasons I cannot comprehend, some kids think it’s cool to treat their little brothers and sisters like second class citizens. Be sure you child is not learning bad habits from friends who are mean to their siblings (or from television programing that models such behavior, including many of the programs on Disney Channel).
The rule at our house has always been, if you can’t get along with your family, you can’t spend time with your friends at all. Granted, this is easier to enforce since we homeschool and are together all day anyway, but as much as possible, you should eliminate time spent with friends who model poor behavior in their own family relationships.
- Monitor media use.
Be aware of what your children are watching/playing/listening to, as much of it is violent and will promote violence. But even beyond content, keep track of the time spent with electronic devices. Studies have shown that the more time a child spends staring at a screen, the more unhappy and irritable he becomes. This is true whether the screen belongs to a computer, television set, iPad, or gaming console — and it undoubtedly contributes to family discord.
Whenever our kids start having trouble getting along, we immediately restrict access to all digital media. Being dependent on one another as playmates for fun (rather than relying on video programing or games for entertainment) does an amazing job of fostering friendship among brothers and sisters!
- Replace bad habits with good.
It will never be enough to tell your children to “stop being so mean to one another.” That will just create a big void that will quickly collapse if not filled with something better. Instead, help them replace the bad with good, replace hateful actions with loving actions, cutting remarks with encouraging remarks, disgusted smirks with warm smiles.
We sometimes require siblings who are at odds to generate lists: “10 thoughtful things I could do for (fill in the blank)” or “12 things I love and appreciate about (insert sibling’s name here).” It’s a practical way of applying the command in Philippians 4:8 to set our minds on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.
I imagine anybody who has been a parent to more than one child for any length of time has had to deal with sibling conflicts at some point. Readers? Tell me, what one thing has been most helpful in your family to keep the fighting at bay?
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