Arguing Siblings

and minding my own business.

My kids are driving me crazy. I am listening to them ARUGE and BICKER about the most mundane, annoying things.  Now that I have two teenagers in the house, I expected our conversations to become more interesting, sophisticated even.  Rarely have our dinner conversations been intellectually inspiring but I kinda hoped we might be heading that direction. NOPE.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids are great to talk to individually. For some reason, when they get together, the conversation turns into “right fighting”. Each child defending some ridiculously unimportant stance to prove that they are right about something.

Here’s what I’m listening to my kids argue about:

-Who can pronounce the word “tomorrow” with the best Australian accent.

-The difference between the words curricula and curriculum and when each should be applied.

-The correct lyrics to the Calliou theme song.

I wouldn’t mind if this was a DISCUSSION, but the passion, voice tone and IMPORTANCE of these debates is awful to me. I can’t stand arguing. I can’t watch Judge Judy or The Women Tell All. My Mom wrote in my baby book, “Victoria would love Kindergarten if it weren’t for yelling teachers”.

But here’s the thing, not once did either kid walk away. What I learned from watching is that THEY don’t hate arguing, just me. They kept it up for an hour! Were these arguing siblings actually ENJOYING themselves? There was plenty of other things to do yet they were CHOOSING to engage in this verbal jousting. And you know what else? They’ve been playing together better than I’ve seen them in years. In the past, I would have interrupted, made them stop or repeated my constant request to please “elevate” the conversation. This time, I let em go, and now they are actually choosing to spend time together (without arguing).

I think raising teens is a lot about recognizing what is OUR business, and removing the expectation that our teens to be the way we want them to be. As our kids grow older, their relationship becomes none of our business. Whether they choose to play nicely or argue fiercely, how they bond is up to them. I think our job is to let them have the relationship they are going to have.

The best way to stay sane while raising teens is to figure out what is our business, their business, and God/Universe’s business. I’m going to call it God’s business that my kids are different genders, different personalities and 4.5 years apart. Those are just circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Their business is what they make of this, how they play, talk, bond, interact. My business is upholding certain house rules, letting go of expectations and allowing them build a relationship separate from me.

  • When dealing with siblings, it’s important to establish house rules like no name calling, eating together as a family, doing chores, etc. If you find yourself struggling with sibling bickering, see if you can figure out where you trying to control something that is someone else’s business.  If you want help with this or establishing and upholding your own “house rules”, schedule a free discovery call. 

One Habit Happy Parents Have in Common

Do this one thing today to help create more cooperative kids and happier parents.

There is one thing you can do today to have happier, more responsible, self-confident kids. PRAISE THEM. I don’t just mean “You are a great kid” or other general statements. I mean specific, timely, honest praise that gets you more of what you want.  Let’s say you have a 10 year old slob living in your home. He leaves food, shoes, backpacks and smelly socks everywhere. It drives you bonkers. You are constantly bouncing back and forth between frustration, nagging and hopelessness. Turn your attention and try to catch him doing SOMETHING towards your goal of cleanliness. “I noticed that instead of kicking off your shoe so that it would fly and hit the ceiling, you wedged it off and left it in the entry way. Thanks for aiming closer to it’s designated spot, I really appreciate your effort in helping our house stay tidy.”  Even if it’s nearly impossible to find something praise worthy, keep trying and look for the slightest nudge towards what you want. 

Perhaps you live with a surly, private 13 year old whose moods change on a dime. If you want to reinforce more steady, polite behavior, find a moment to praise it. “I notice when your friend came to the door, you were polite and sociable. That must have been hard since you were so grumpy a minute earlier. Being able to manage your emotions is a wonderful life skill and I’m impressed you are learning it at such a young age.”

You don’t want to lie or be sarcastic. Just find one small, incremental movement that demonstrates effort in the direction you want to see. Notice my title says “One thing happy PARENTS have in common”.  Sure, this will help your children be happy, but so will happier parents!  It’s just too easy to see the shortcomings in our kids, especially during adolescence. When we only see the negative in our kids it feels heavy and yucky to us, and to them. Focusing on what our kids are doing well will make everyone feel happier and more at peace. Try it today. Pick a behavior that bugs you and then find something to praise about it. “You brought your dish to the sink!” “Sharing space on your plate with a vegetable takes courage and that zucchini sat there the whole time!”  “I noticed how when you got angry with your sister, you went to your room to cool off instead of letting it escalate.” “You remembered you have a test tomorrow!” “You still brush your teeth every night even though I stopped reminding you!  You are so responsible!”

Avoid “You are so smart” or “Great Job” or anything fixed like intelligence, appearance, talent or skill. The key is to praise their EFFORT, something they have power over changing. Find something every day to praise, you will never regret it!

Excited for summer? or dreading it….

We are on the final countdown till summer and I am matching my kids’ excitement with equal amounts of dread. I’m looking forward to some fun getaways with family, and of course my Girls Summer Camps (3 spots left!) but all those empty days on the calendar are sending me into a panic. How about you? Do you come to life in summer or do you wilt under the never-ending demands of vacation time with kids? IMG_1142

If you are like me and feeling daunted by summer, let’s make a plan to prioritize sanity and make sure Mom gets the most out of this summer, too.

Understanding WHY summer is hard is the first step. For me, a big reason is a lack of structure. I seem to be the lone J in a house full of P’s. In the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment, the ‘P” or Perceiving personality type loves to have open expanses of time with nothing on the calendar.  Perceiving types (my husband and kids) love spontaneity and the opportunity to follow a whim. The ‘J’ or Judging personality type (me) loves structure and plans. My ESFJ personality type feels more relaxed when there are plans on the calendar. This stresses the rest of the family out. Whenever I put their preferences before mine for more than a day, I go a little bit insane. I can create a structure without anyone else knowing, but often I don’t. It’s more difficult for me to follow through with my plans in the summer, since no one will know if I flake, but I remind myself that I always feel better if I stick to my plans.

The second reason I go nuts is my lack of alone time. I am used to having the entire school day by myself to focus on my clients and work projects. I run errands and grocery shop by myself, I listen to my music and my podcasts. I get to think my own thoughts inside my own head…it’s heavenly!  But then summer comes and the kid’s energies creep into me, replacing my own thoughts and feelings with theirs. With my spongy personality type, it’s important that I make time to be alone every day. Decide what your minimum baseline is and make sure you meet it every day. If you hear yourself say, “I’m fine, I don’t need it today”, do it anyway to maintain sanity.

– 45 minutes a day to eat lunch outside and read a magazine

– 2 hours of watching TV before bed.

– 20 minute bike ride

– 30 minute journaling and meditation

– 60 minute morning jog or workout

You can always take more but being consistent is a great gift to yourself and your kids. You teach people how to treat you. If you do it every day with clear, confident boundaries, your kids will it is non-negotiable and respect your time.

The third reason I enter the land of crazy is that I’m an extrovert and I like to have other people around me. My introverted kids love being home all day but I need more stimulation and companionship than just my family. I would love it if other Moms invited me to do things but usually it’s my desperation that leads me to do the coordinating. Sometimes, when I’m feeling yucky, I start assuming everyone else has plans and doesn’t want to see me. I am always glad when I get out of my own way and schedule social get togethers with friends.

Under stress, we regress, and usually end up being overly permissive or overly authoritative in our parenting. Whenever we aren’t parenting as well as we know we can, we feel even worse. Have a list of things to do if you start slipping into The Land of Crazy:

Unlimited media day, cereal for dinner, invite your friend over, go to a movie or children’s museum, put earphones on so the kids know you can’t hear them, set a timer and declare “drop everything and read” hour, have a project to work on like a jigsaw puzzle or putting photos in albums, make kids play outside for an hour, have a jar of activities they can choose from or a jar of chores, have kids make a movie to post on youtube for Grandma, go to the pool, whatever you think will work best so you get a break. Write it down so when you are spiraling down, you don’t have to try and be creative.

Problems arise when we ignore our personality type in order to please our kids. Moms deserve to enjoy summer just as much as everyone else. Take this personality assessment to learn more about yourself and create a summer that suits who you are.

Obedience training for kids

I confess, I keep making the same parenting mistake. My problem is I love, LOVE. I love cuddles and affection, I want everyone to be happy all the time, including myself. The first time I learned there was a negative consequence for my constant quest for peace and love was substitute teaching. (Every pregnant Mama should substitute teach before they give birth…very quick feedback in a short period of time!) It was awful: tears, chaos, climbing on furniture, yelling, and the kids were pretty bad, too.

Nice, loving Mommy is always my default. It’s only when things aren’t working, that I have to switch gears and put on my authoritative hat. I used to think I had to be mean in order to get kids to obey me. Trial and error taught me the happy balance between commanding respect while being clear and kind. 

Lately, my dog has been misbehaving, showing me that I’ve been coddling and pouring on the love, but with not enough discipline. I started watching the expert in authoritative leadership, Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer. If you haven’t watched him, you HAVE to check him out, even if you don’t like dogs. There is just nothing like this on TV and it is truly FASCINATING. If you are like me and “Alpha Male” energy doesn’t come naturally, these 4 lessons of leadership are key to getting kids and dogs to obey you.  

  1. Calm Assertive Energy – This is GOLD people! Have ever watched a teacher easily manage 30+ kids, cheerfully and effectively, and wonder “How the heck does she do that?” Calm, assertive energy is what we feel when we are in our power. Dogs and kids can sense it and are quick to respect our authority. They may push back, but when we stay consistent and calm, they feel our conviction and they back down. I wanted my son to play fewer video games. If I stay wanting, pleading, bribing, he won’t respond. It’s the energy of a weak leader and kids don’t respect it. If I feel “mean” or “bad” for taking them away, he will disregard my authority. When I physically removed them, wrote down very clear guidelines around when he could play and what the consequences were if he violated the rules, and he snuck them back in! When I asked him why, he said he didn’t think I meant it. He’d figured I would forget like I have in the past. Actions, energy, body language, and consistency, speak louder than words. Think about stopping your toddler from running into a busy street. You are quick to act, clear in your instruction, and 100% convicted and consistent. It’s clear instruction, delivered with assertiveness.
  2. Expectation – Cesar Milan says, “You need to picture your dog obeying you in your mind.” The dog will respond to your vision. If I look around me right now, I see a computer, a table, a pen, a pillow, and a dog bed.  Everything I see, began in someone’s imagination. Vision, the ability to imagine something happening before you see the results, is HUGE!  If we believe, “My kids can’t stop bickering” we will create that result by ignoring and tolerating fights. If we imagine our kids getting along, and then we hear a raised voice or a snide remark, our ears perk up and we correct the behavior and stop it before it escalates.  We have to imagine that what we want is possible, before we can create it. 
  3. Respect the nature of the beast – Cesar always reminds people that their pets are DOGS first and dogs do things differently than people. To get a dog to comply, you need to understand the characteristics associated with it’s SPECIES and BREED. You can’t have a herding dog, and expect it lie around all day. As parents, it’s important to respect the nature of our children, and their individual personality traits. All kids need to play, move their bodies, have friends, choose what activities they want to master, etc. Some kids are born to tinker, to compete, to create, to talk, to daydream. Think about what your expectations are and make sure you aren’t asking your child to go too much against his or her nature.
  4. Enter into their world – Cesar communicates with dogs in their own language. He uses body posture, energy, and sounds, and it works like magic!  As parents we are so often in our world, with our agenda and time frame, trying to get our kids to put on their shoes and get in the car. Jumping into our kid’s world isn’t easy but it is SO effective, especially when they are young. Let’s say your preschooler is enjoying an imaginary world of cars and flying turtles. If you get down on the floor and engage with her in playing for a minute, then fly the turtles to her shoes, and park the cars along side. With the imaginary world unbroken, it is so much easier to put shoes on and have the turtles fly and into the magical cup holders of the carseat. Let’s face it, their world is often a better, more lovely place to be than our world anyway. Enjoy the opportunity to step into it and get cooperation at the same time.

Is bickering good for kids?


Brothers Sam & Cameron

How’s your summer going? Warm weather, lazy days, and popsicles? Or is it more like, “It’s my turn!” “Give it back!” “Let me have it!” “STOP IT!” “MOOOOMMMM!”
With kids and parents spending more time together, sibling fights can be another hallmark of summer. The petty arguments over nothing important can drive parents bonkers. The quick solution these days is a pair of earphones and an electronic device. Unfortunately, this effective solution robs kids of the benefits of bickering.

Try putting the earphones on yourself and let your kids learn some great life lessons in some really annoying ways.

Teasing offers kids a way to probe the boundaries of a relationship and address power issues. They value the attention they get from their sibling, which creates motivation not to push too far. The ability to be silly, laugh, and not take ourselves too seriously is super helpful in all close relationships. We want our kids to be funny, but not mean, this is how they learn it.

Rough & Tumble play is a valuable part of growing up. Just like with puppies, wrestling established dominance, boundaries and gets out energy. It teaches kids to stand up for themselves and use body language and voice tone to communicate their wishes. Even if the wrestling ends in tears and time outs, it can still teach empathy, cultural norms, and how to apologize and make amends. In fact, research shows wrestling and time in nature are the best remedies for ADHD.

Did you know arguing and bickering is a form of play? Otherwise known as “verbal jousting”, siblings are having fun! They are also learning to be okay with conflict, get along with others and solve problems. Watch your kids next time they argue, could they leave the room but choose to stay? Could it be they are enjoying the fight, learning how to win and lose gracefully? Are they learning that life isn’t always fair but there is more than one way to get what you want?

The more your children upset each other, the more opportunity they have to learn how their actions affect others emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions and develop self-control. Learning to play this way helps kids create healthy friendships and intimate relationships later in life.

Once you take the earphones off, there are a few things you can do to be sure they learn good lessons, not bad ones.
1. Don’t pigeon hole your kids. “Sheri is the nice one, Jack is the bully, Kyle is the drama king.” Kids pick up on those labels and live up to them. Praise them for what you WANT to see. If you want to see empathy, compliment them for it. “I saw that you wanted to keep fighting but you heard the frustration in her voice and hesitated, that was so nice to see.”
2. While wrestling is good, violence isn’t. If your child appears nervous, withdrawn or afraid, end the game and protect your kid.
3. Establish house rules and post them for the whole family. (In this home, there will not be name-calling or hitting. In this home we tell the truth and apologize. In this home we respect furniture, belongings, and each other.) Clear and firm, with predictable consequences.
4. Observe your children. If one wants to interact and the other doesn’t, support them both equally.

TV, cell phones and video games keep us from feeling our feelings which leads to disconnection and depression. Emotions can’t kill you but suppressing them can. Allow yourselves your full range of emotions so you can feel fully human and alive. And if you just can’t stand it, sing show tunes really loud. Barney songs work, too. How do you cope with bickering kids?