Fighting kids – How to get my kids to stop hating each other

Episode #14

Today’s Question:

My middle school kids are constantly fighting. They are close in age (12 and 13) and used to be the best of friends, always playing happily together. Lately, however, it’s been awful. They bicker and are constantly picking on each other, trying to bring the other down. I really want my boys to be friends again! How can I get my kids to stop hating each other? Sheila

Parent Educator Answer:

If your children used to get along very well, that tells me you did a great job of staying out of their conflicts. Children who are at each other from a young age have figured out how to bring mom into the argument and triangulate the issue. When mom is involved, kids can use siblings to fight for power, control, attention, superiority, etc. (If this sounds like you, or you have other issues with fighting siblings, go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/record-my-question and tell me about your situation).

There is a lot to talk about with sibling rivalry, and we’ll need more than one podcast to cover all the topics. 

For this one, I’m going to assume that Sheila is not getting involved, but is just bothered by having to listen to her two precious babies go at each other.

There are many reasons why pre-teens might start picking on their sibling when they didn’t before. I want to focus on the two most common and developmentally appropriate reasons for this sudden change.

  1. Adolescent angst. Puberty does a number on kids. The hormones cause stronger emotional responses and mood swings, making ‘walking on eggshells’ an everyday situation. Puberty also usually involves hanging out with people who constantly scrutinize and criticize each other’s appearances, performance, speech, and food choices. You name it, some adolescent is judging it. When kids are soaking up everyone else’s negative, insecure emotions like a sponge all day long, they ring it out when they get home. Who is the easiest person to target? Their sibling.

The question I would want to ask my kid is, “Does it work?” If they feel yucky when they get in the car, do they feel better after putting their sibling down and pointing out all their flaws? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, either way, teaching your child to reflect on their own words and actions is super powerful. 

Whether the answer to the question is yes or no, I would then ask, “Is there another way you can purge the yucky-ness of your day and feel better, that doesn’t involve picking on your sibling?”

Some kids purge verbally, by venting and getting it all off their chest. Some purge physically by hopping on their bike or shooting hoops. Spending time alone, taking a shower, writing in a journal, hanging out with friends, reading a book, are all ways pre-teens have found to feel better after being surrounded by negative people all day.

 2. The other reason why you might see an increase in sibling rivalry during puberty is your child (usually the older one) is wanting to create a bigger separation between himself and his sibling. This desire to be seen as older, wiser, different, and more mature grows really strong between 12-15. (This can be seen with twins as well). Adolescence is all about figuring out who you are and who you want to be? When kids are trying to figure out what their interests and skills are or which friend group they feel most comfortable with, they need to wiggle out of their child self like a snake shedding it’s skin. It can be hard for a pre-teen to know who they are if they maintain the tight relationship they’ve always had with their siblings, parents, or close friends. The pre-teen years are a time of rapid and massive growth and they need space to figure it all out.

It’s pretty common for kids to “cocoon” as they transform themselves from a kid into an adult. Cocooning can look like being in the bedroom or bathroom for long periods of time with the door closed, wanting more alone time, or cocooning with a best friend and excluding others. The sibling relationship connects to who they were as a child, some kids need to separate from it in order to become the adult they are meant to be. Fighting and constantly putting down a sibling is an effective way to separate.

It’s nice to know why things happen, but what the heck is Mama supposed to DO about it?

Parent Educator Tips for Sibling Rivalry 

  1. Stay out of it. As much as we would like to, we don’t get to decide what kind of relationship our kids are going to have with each other. Their relationship is their’s to figure out and we need to let go of any preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to look like. If your sister is your best friend, you might have expectations for your girls having the same close relationship and get really bothered when they “hate on each other”. 
  2. Protect their SAFETY. Wrestling and “horse-play” are great ways for kids to learn boundaries. When kids grow up “rough-housing” they learn about remorse, apologizing, inflicting pain, boundaries, and saying no like you mean it. Generally kids will stop on their own, right at the point where their sibling might get hurt. But, if they have triangulated a parent into it, or are using sibling rivalry to serve themselves in an unhealthy way, they may harm their sibling. Then, it is absolutely the parent’s job to protect the sibling.
  3. Treat your children as fairly as possible. If they sense favoritism, they may take it out on their sibling. Don’t compare: “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Don’t label: “She’s the aggressive one, he’s the smart one,” and spend quality time with both.
  4. Let them see you resolving conflicts in a calm way with other adults.
  5. Establish house rules like “no hitting or hurting” or “no name calling”. Post them where everyone can see and have consistent consequences when those rules are not followed.

Life Coaching Answer –

Learn all you can about how to responsibly manage sibling rivalry but when it’s not working for you, life coaching comes in handy.

Kids fighting with each other is a circumstance. As much as she would like to, Sheila can’t make them change without the kids wanting to change. Wishing they would stop is like going outside everyday and yelling at the weather, telling it that it needs to be different. It might be true. You might be sick of the cold or rain, but feeling annoyed everyday because the weather isn’t they way you’d like it is fruitless and only causes suffering for YOU.

Sheila wants them to stop because she doesn’t like how she feels when they are fighting.

She’s probably thinking thoughts like…

“I want them to get along like they used to.” (arguing with reality)

or “They shouldn’t be so mean and hateful with each other” (too much negative emotion)

or “I don’t know what to do” (causes confusion).

These thoughts or similar ones cause negative emotions for MOM. It’s time to figure out what you have control over and focus on that.

How do YOU want to feel WHEN your kids are fighting?

You get to choose!

Do you want to feel confident? Think the thought “I know what to do here”.

Do you want to feel calm? Then think “I can trust them to work it out”.

Do you want to feel content? Think “This behavior is normal and temporary”.

When you are feeling a positive emotion, you will be more likely to implement the recommendations parent educators have to offer.

Before you are in the situation of your kids arguing, play it out in your imagination. Picture them fighting with each other, and imagine you are staying calm. Imagine evaluating the situation peacefully and objectively, “Do I need to keep him safe?” “Is he just purging the “yuck” he picked up during the day?” “Is he trying to separate himself from the family?” Observe the fighting with a scientific mind, then practice feeling calm/confident or whatever emotion you want to feel. Picture yourself taking action from that place. Imaging making comments appropriate to the situation like, “You guys sure like to fight” or “You must have had a pretty awful day today to be picking on your sister so much” or “Let me know when you are done fighting so I can make us a snack”.

You cannot control your children’s relationship but you can decide how you want to feel about it. When you stay calm, and model how to resolve conflicts peacefully, you are showing them another way.

Supermom Kryptonite – Mirror Neurons

We have mirror neurons in our brain that help us connect with the other people in the room. Mirror neurons are what make us smile when a baby smiles at us, or cry in a powerful “This Is Us” episode. When kids are “hating on each other” our default is to “hate on them” or “hate the situation.” We default to matching or mirroring the emotions of the people around us unless we do something deliberately different. We think,”You need to stop being so mean to your sister because it’s driving me crazy.” We think our argumentative teens are making us feel annoyed and frustrated, but our emotions are coming from our brain. Taking time to notice how we are feeling and deliberately overriding these mirror neurons is completely possible and a great thing to model to our adolescents. 

Try asking them, “How do you hang out with critical, insecure middle schoolers all day and not let it affect you?” They may not believe you if you tell them how mirror neurons work but this might plant a seed in your teen’s brain. When YOU learn to separate your emotions from your kid’s emotions, you will be modeling for them, how to separate from other people’s negative emotions. 

Supermom Powerboost – little ones

Even though you can override other people’s negative emotions by setting a clear intention for the feeling you WANT to feel, most of us don’t want to work that hard. If you are surrounded by cranky adolescents, go hang out with some little ones. Babies, pre-schoolers or any pre-pubescent kiddo is a joy to be around (especially when you aren’t responsible for their well being). When adolescent angst hit my home, I got myself a part-time job at an elementary school. It’s much easier to deal with argumentative teens when I spent the day with happy children who write me love notes and get so excited when “Mrs. Henderson” walks by. Do you have nieces or nephews to play with? Could you volunteer once a week or invite the neighbor kids over for a holiday craft? You don’t want to ride the emotional roller coaster of adolescence along with your kiddos. Find ways, like hanging out with small children, to keep you separate and balanced so you can be your best self for your teens and pre-teens.

Quote “Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.” — Sam Levenson

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.