When Children Won’t Stop Bickering


What This Is Like from a Parent’s Perspective


You want each of your children to know they matter. But when they are constantly arguing with each other…

… when they talk over each other, insisting they are right 

… when they constantly whine about how the other did them wrong 

…when they blame each other for everything… 

…it’s practically impossible to remain calm and patient. You want your kids to get along and treat each other with respect. But you can’t seem to stop the constant fights. 


What This Is Like from a Child’s Perspective


Children don’t wake up in the morning WANTING to fight with their siblings. What they do want is to know they matter, and to feel a sense of control.

…So when they feel that they are “losing” something (time with a parent, the bigger side of the cookie), they will argue about it 

….When they feel like no one is hearing their perspective, they will dig their heels in deeper and fight harder 

…Or when they don’t like another child, they will try to make them feel bad, often through words. 

And when they get punished for their behavior, it just motivates them to fight harder and more the next time. 



How It Usually Goes When

Children Won’t Stop Bickering



Elliot and Mark’s dad has bought them each a new book. Elliot starts looking at his book but then sees that Mark’s looks interesting too, so he tries to take it. Elliot and Mark start fighting over the book. 


Dad: Elliot! Give that back now! 

Elliot (ignores him and continues to try to get the book). 

Dad (rushes over to Elliot, pulls him back, and yells): I cannot believe you! We do not just TAKE things from each other. 

Elliot (yelling back): You’re always taking his side!

Mark: That’s because you were wrong and I was right!

Dad: I’m not taking anyone’s SIDE! I’d get upset with anyone who tries to take something from another person like you just did, Elliot. 

Elliot: Leave me alone!

Mark: No, Elliot. He shouldn’t leave you alone. You were mean!

Elliot: But Mark did something to me too! Don’t you care?

Mark: You took MY book!

Dad: Elliot, you’re the one tried to take something. Leave this room. Now. I’ll talk to you later about what you’ve done. And you will NOT be getting any more electronics today.

Elliot: I’m just going to leave this house!

Mark: Good!

Dad: Mark… Don’t make it worse!

The three continue arguing. 


How It Could Go When

Children Won’t Stop Bickering



Elliot and Mark’s dad has bought them each a new book. Elliot starts looking at his book but then sees that Mark’s looks interesting too, so he tries to take it. Elliot and Mark start fighting over the book. 


Dad (coming in firmly but calmly): Uh oh, I hear something going on… 

Elliot: He wouldn’t let me see his book!

Mark: He grabbed it out of my hand!

Dad: I am going to listen to you both, but I want to hear what each of you has to say. I’ll wait until you’re not talking over each other.


[expand title=”CALM”]

Mark and Elliot’s dad is annoyed that his kids keep bickering, but he knows that explaining to the boys why they need to share won’t work. He also doesn’t think yelling over their voices will help the situation. 
Instead, he reminds himself to stay calm so that his kids know he is in control. [/expand]


(After a few moments, their arguing lessens.)

Dad: You both wanted the book. Elliot, tell me what was going on.

Mark: Why does he get to talk first?

Dad: I want to hear you BOTH. Once he talks, I want to hear what you have to say too.

Elliot: I wanted the book and I know he wouldn’t give it to me… like, ever.

Mark: Yes I would!!

Dad: I’ll wait. (He waits again and the boys stop arguing more quickly this time.)

Elliot: I wanted the book. So I took it. I was going to give it back!


[expand title=”CONNECT”]

Elliot’s dad is upset that Elliot took the book from Mark. And he wants the fighting to end. But instead of taking sides, he knows he has to help both boys feel heard.
So he reiterates Elliot’s perspective and then does the same for Mark.


Dad: OK, so you wanted to see it for a little while.

Elliot: Yes!

Mark: But the book is MINE! You bought it for me!

Dad: So you were upset that he took it.

Mark: And then pushed me out of the way to get it!

Dad: OK. So Elliot wanted to see the book. That’s fair. And Mark wasn’t ready for him to take it. That’s fair too. Elliot, is there another way you could have thought about your feelings and Mark’s? 

Elliot: I’ve asked before, but he never lets me see things!

Dad: So you didn’t know how to see the book that you wanted to see?

Elliot: Right.

Dad: Since pushing and snatching…Mark,  if he wants to see your book, what should he do?

Mark: I don’t mind him looking… Just not when I first get something!

Dad: What would be better for you?

Mark: After I’ve gone through it once, then he can look.

Dad: Elliot, what do you think of that?

Elliot: That’s fine, IF he’s not lying right now. What if next time he still tells me I can’t have it?

Dad: Mark? What should happen then?


[expand title=”CORRECT”]

Although the goal is to ultimately prevent fighting, Mark and Elliot’s dad knows they need to cool off and learn conflict resolution skills in order to work things out in the future. 
He focuses on being firm while offering Mark and Elliot the tools they need to behave better. 



Mark: Then you can remind me, Dad. If you do it NICELY and not when you’re angry.

Dad: OK. I can try that. So we all have a job here. Elliot needs to wait until Mark’s seen something himself the first time. Mark needs to allow Elliot to see it when he’s done. And I have to be respectful in how I remind you of the plan. I’ll do my part. Will you do yours: Mark? Elliot?

Mark: Fine.

Elliot. Yes.

Dad: Great. If this plan doesn’t work… we’re going to keep working on this until we find a way that works for everyone. 



What is REQUIRED for In-the-Moment Parenting to Work


Though Mark and Elliot’s dad used the Calm, Connect, Correct strategy in the moment, proactive deposits will make all of the difference in how this situation will play out. 

If you want to give your child tools to be successful (so they can stop being aggressive and disrespectful), remember: 


[expand title=”Depositing into CALM”]

You will only be able to stay calm when

a.) your own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are met (otherwise you won’t have a reserve to draw from and you’ll immediately go into Yuck)

b.) you don’t have the expectation that your children will have the same priorities that you do

When you make sure your own needs are met and you set realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, you are more likely to be able to stay calm. [/expand]


[expand title=”Depositing into CONNECT”]

You will be able to connect if

a.) you respect that ALL behavior has a reason and

b.) you understand those reasons (in a case like this, that kids who are aggressive need someone to understand them AND give them tools to handle their big emotions)

When you become comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, you will be able to connect more effectively. [/expand]


[expand title=”Depositing into CORRECT”]

You will be able to correct behavior by offering a tool if

a.) You have demonstrated consistently in the past that you mean what you say when you set a boundary like “You can’t hurt your brother.”

b.) You have made enough deposits into your kids’ emotional needs that setting a boundary doesn’t put them immediately into Yuck.

When you demonstrate that you mean what you say and when you make deposits into your kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, you  will be able to correct behavior more effectively. [/expand]