Home » Dr. Neal's Corner » Parenting Tip: Dealing with Bickering Children

Parenting Tip: Dealing with Bickering Children

When in the vicinity of bickering children I find it quite unpleasant. You, too? Well, consider the following as a means to reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of such behavior:

When your children are bickering, as soon as you become aware of it, say to them something like: “It is not fun being around people acting that way towards each other (often referred to as “going at it with each other”). If you need to act that way, each of you need to go somewhere (within the home) where nobody can hear or see you. (The first time) When you feel like you can return and not act that way, then come back.” No need to discuss the situation or offer your assistance at that time. Please notice, I did NOT suggest you say [loudly and angrily; doing this as soon as you notice decreases the likelihood that you are acting/speaking out of anger (something I regret every time I do so)]: “Each of you go to your room and stand in the corner with your nose up against the wall!!” The “turn around time” is usually 45-60 seconds and some times that is all they need to be able to return and successfully interact (that is, not being mean to each other and enjoying themselves together).

Often, however, within a minute of them returning they resume going at it with each other. If/when that occurs, you again say something like: “It is not fun being around people acting that way towards each other. This time you need to go somewhere for 10 minutes (if the child is under 8 years old, 5 minutes) where nobody can hear or see you.” After 10 minutes [NOTE: This “10 minutes” resets each time the child yells (including: “Is the 10 minutes up, yet?) or “banging around”]  you will check on each of them for two reasons: 1) to decide for yourself if they appear ready to return to scene of the bickering; and 2) to have them tell you why they needed to spend this time alone and where nobody could see or hear them (this helps you know they see the connection between their bickering and this consequence).

If the bickering resumes a third time, say: “It is not fun being around people acting that way towards each other. You need to go somewhere for 10 minutes (if the child is under 8 years old, 5 minutes) where nobody can hear or see you.” After 10 minutes you will check on each of them for the two reasons I mentioned. And, this time, the kids cannot return to the room where the bickering occurred for the rest of the day.

Before implementing such a plan, you must review all the details (the behavior that will prompt implementation, the consequences of the behaviors, and the progression of the consequences) with the children. Nobody likes surprises!

Sometimes we need to magnify the costs of the behavior we don’t wish to see. Sometimes we need to magnify the benefits of the behavior we do wish to see. We are all experts (or like to think we are) at magnifying the costs of the behavior we don’t wish to see. Magnifying the benefits of the behavior we do wish to see is at least as powerful (if not more so) as magnifying the costs of the behavior we don’t wish to see. And, I believe, the magnification of the benefits of preferred behavior enhances the power of the magnification of the costs of non-preferred behavior. In the world of education and psychology the expression pertaining to this is: “Catch ‘em being good.”

Whenever you notice that your children have been getting along together (enjoying themselves and each other), let them know you noticed. Poke your head into the room and remark something like: “You are having fun. It feels really good seeing you get along.” Always praise the behavior, not the child (Not: “You are such good kids because…”) This helps them become aware of themselves in that moment. This awareness helps them notice their own good work (having fun; having things the way they want). What they notice, they can remember. What they remember, they can repeat (go to Dr. Neal’s Corner and see April 2 post: “1, 2, 3! Self-care…”) As well, this praise for the behavior (this communication of the pleasure you derive from their behavior) is powerful. Your children wish to please you. Praise from someone who cares about us is the most powerful reinforcement.

Friendly Reminders:

  1. Buy my books!
  1. This and everything found in Dr. Neal’s Corner are for educational purposes only. Professional advice specific to your situation should only be given in the context of a professional relationship with a licensed health care professional.
  1. Question everything I write! You know a lot. Sharing HERE (or in the “comment” section of this article) your questions, thoughts, experiences, and beliefs regarding whatever I have written enhances the value of Dr. Neal’s Corner. I will do my best to answer any questions and encourage others to share their answers to any questions posed here. Thanks!
  1. Please, encourage, suggest, direct others you know who could benefit from Dr. Neal’s Corner to visit and subscribe to Dr. Neal’s Corner. Thanks for that, too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *