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I know siblings argue and I know my kids love each other but how do I get them to speak kindly to each other rather than always being mean to each other. I feel I am always on them about their tone with each other and the constant arguing. I feel like I am not changing the behavior. Any suggestions? Thanks.


- Linda, Camarillo, CA

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Listen to Doctor Katherine's Answer...  

DR. LARSON'S ANSWER:
Ugh, Linda. I have to say that siblings rivalry is one of the most irritating parenting issues. So I can really empathize. Sibling rivalry is an opportunity to teach lots of different Inspired Kids Success Secrets.

It especially offers a chance to develop what I call the Success Skill Stake a Claim™ which means helping kids learn that they have 100% responsibility for how they feel, what they think and how they act.

In other words, their sibling IS NOT responsible for how they feel, think or act. They are.

Another opportunity with sibling rivalry is the chance to help your children develop the important skill I call "Word the Wants". In this case, it is a chance for your children to practice verbalizing what they WANT from their sibling instead of verbalizing what they DON'T WANT. As, in

"I want him to share the front seat" instead of "I don't want him to always sit in the front seat!"

But first of all, remember sibling rivalry is normal.

I'm going to refer you to an old standby book right off the bat which is called Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

It has many many editions and was originally published, I think in 1987. It's by the same authors of

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

That recommendation made, here's what's been helpful to me both as a parent and as a coach to parents.

First, it's important to set boundaries of what kind of language is acceptable. Tell you children that mean, rude, harsh words are not acceptable between anyone including family members.

I'm guessing your children are kind to friends and just mean to their sibling so they will know that kindness is the right way to behave but you're making it clear it also includes their sibling which they may not have thought actually counted in the "must be kind to" group.

Second, I would talk to them about why kind words are necessary - especially in family settings where we spend a lot of time.

What I mean here is helping them understand that words are things and have REAL effect on our own bodies and the bodies or energy of others around us. I teach a lot about this concept in my other seminars.

You want your kids to understand that you and any other family members - including pets - are being negatively impacted by their unkind words and negative energy and you want it stopped because it hurts all of your health.

Now that the boundary is set in a calm manner, you need to REBUILD the habit of speaking kindly to each other.

At this point, I am thinking that they are in the habit of being harsh, impatient and critical of each other. I am thinking they are in the habit of speaking in such a way as to upset the other rather than calm the other. I know my own kids build a habit of responding to their sibling this way. So I had to REPLACE or build a new habit. That's what I'm suggesting you do.

Tell this to your kids - they have a habit of negatively responding to each other - it is automatic and you are going to help them create a new habit of automatic kindness or at least politeness.

Tell them about the rule of 99 - it will take 99 times of kindness almost in a row to build the new habit so that it comes automatically. Reassure them of your belief in them to solve this problem.

To jump start a new habit and get them to implement change immediately, I would find some goal they BOTH want. And I would tell them they can either work together to attain that goal together or fail together. Each child could be working toward their own goal but the point is that they must both succeed in getting along or neither succeeds.

I might mention that I have found the stakes have to be pretty motivating because this is NOT an easy behavior for siblings to learn.

Many of the parents I coach have found it necessary to confiscate electronic equipment, cell phones or games or TV time to motivate their children to get along.

Your goal is to get your children to FIGURE OUT for themselves how not to upset each other, how to handle disagreements with positive energy, how to be as patient and kind with each other as they are their friends.

You have to be certain your children know the skills of social negotiation.

If you have to teach your kids negotiation skills then do so but if you think they have the skills then you need to STEP OUT OF THE PICTURE.

Stop trying to be a referee. Stop suggesting solutions. In the beginning, if things get too rowdy then tell them you will send them to their rooms or if you have to step in YOUR SOLUTION WILL ALWAYS BE to turn off the TV, to put the game away, to turn the car around, etc.

Stepping out of the referee role is vital. And don't get sucked in by one of your children reporting on what the other one did to them. Tell them to figure it out or you will implement your solution which is to simply stop the activity - no negotiation.

Other parents I have coached have found stepping out to really help.

If you follow this plan, I think arguments and negative words will be cut by 80 - 90% in about three weeks. Stick to your guns, don't referee, and if the motivator is high, they will eventually come around.

Your children may express some frustration over being held accountable for their siblings behavior but I find sticking to one's guns on this particular issue motivates kids to work together and see how they could bring their sibling along.

So, good luck Linda, wishing you patience.
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