bickering

What to do When Children Bicker in the Car

Autofahrt

My children are now teenagers, and we still occasionally have this. Here are several ways to solve:

Settle specifics – In our house, it has always been the music. Settling specifics means coming up with a full, solid and publicly agreed upon plan for repeat conflicts. For a few years, our plan was structured around whoever was in the front seat picked first, and on commercial breaks, control alternated. At some point, a great debate started about what constituted a commercial break so we restructured. You might have a simpler plan like following odd/even days. On odd days one child makes all those decisions, and on even days the other child.

Bring supplies and BOOKS – Stock the car with things to keep them busy. This might be magazines, notebooks and pens, magnet games or car bingo. Once children are reading, car rides provide an opportunity for them to really get into their stories. I remember reading whole novels on our trips to and from the grandparents house each year.

Give them something to listen to – Their music is a great place to start. Books on tape can be a helpful way to engage them. You might find these using the Audible app or at your public library. Listening with individual earphones might cut down on the bickering. Give them noise reduction earphones or earplugs while they color, play with their magnets or read, and it might also reduce the bickering.

Play games – You might keep them busy with games like the Alphabet game or Find the States game. Here are a few links for car game ideas: Best Car Games for Kids, Fun Car Games and Moms Minivan.

Sing-alongs – Car rides are a perfect time for sing-alongs. This might be to your children’s favorite CDs, or you could teach them songs that you know. I lean towards campfire songs and patriotic songs.

Conversation starters – There are several companies that make question boxes. This includes Melissa and Doug, Table Talk and American Girl’s box of questions. These are a great way to start conversations that encourage everyone to participate.

Give them elbow room – It may be helpful to seat them farther apart. If you have a third row, consider moving one of them back there. Once the oldest is 13 years old, they might move to the front seat.

Put up dividers – When all else fails, divide and conquer. For about six months, when I was in elementary school, my dad set a huge cooler in between us in the back seat. I couldn’t even see my brother, let alone bicker with him. Cardboard might be easier.

Stop the car – When all else fails, it’s fine to pull the car over and wait. However, it doesn’t help any if stopping the car is an empty threat. You’ve got to really pull over and wait them out. This is all the better if you are headed somewhere for them. My dad used this idea right before the cooler.

 

How Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

 

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Me and Rodney 1975

 

I’ll admit, I am about to way oversimplify an issue about complex family dynamics. There are people who spend years in therapy unraveling the impact from the next few points. That said, there are some fairly obvious ways your own sibling relationships, from growing up and from current exchange, can impact your children’s sibling relationships. While it may not be as direct in your family, still worth stepping back and checking the big picture.

Your expectations from childhood – How you got along with your siblings can shape your expectations for how your children will get along. My brother and I got along great, and I expected my children would get along. My husband and his siblings, not so much. He is still surprised by the way our children get along.

Your current sibling relationships – Through your current sibling relationships you are modeling how to treat and interact with siblings. How much you keep in touch, how you greet each other, the time you spend together and how you move through disagreements are all modeling to children about sibling relationships.

How you speak to and about your siblings – How you speak to and about your siblings, models to children how to speak to and about their siblings. If you put down your siblings, complain about them, or critique their decisions often, it opens the door for this to be how they speak to and about their siblings.

Your tolerance for behaviors shaped by what you experienced – A mother of three was teary-eyed asking how to stop her children from bickering. Her question started, “I just can’t take their bickering. There was constant bickering in my house growing up…” Yes, healthy goal for her children to bicker less. Also healthy to recognize some level of bickering is normal, and to find ways to lessen her carried-over stress about the remainder.

 

Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

Two Families Sitting Outside House

First, your own sibling relationships help shape your expectations for how your children might get along. My brother and I got along great growing up. We played together when we were little and hung out fairly often through college. I expect my girls to get along. When they do play and hang out, I count that as it should be. My husband and his siblings didn’t get along so well. His older brother and he fought often and never felt close. His younger sister and he bickered often. When he sees the girls getting along, he is still surprised. He thinks it’s just short of miraculous they enjoy each others’ company.

Second, how you speak to and about your grown siblings models to your children how to speak to and about siblings. Read that again if you need to. When your children are within earshot, speak about your siblings in the nicest way possible. It’s great if it’s honest, and it’s okay if it’s a stretch, or just avoid saying negative things so openly. I speak very openly about growing up with my brother, how much fun we had on family vacations and how it was great to be at the same high school and college for a year. My husband speaks nicely about his sister and avoids speaking much about his brother as it’s still rocky.

Third, you may side more often with one or the other based on birth order or other related variables. I was the youngest in my family, and I find myself occasionally siding with my youngest Claire because her perspective makes sense to me. The goal is to recognize the tendency and be sure it doesn’t become a pattern.

Avoid Focusing on the Sibling Relationship Specifically

I grew up with a brother. I know it is natural for siblings to bicker and fight sometimes. I also know it is easy to put pressure on their individual relationship when you are addressing the behaviors. I hear parents saying things like, “you will love your brother. He is going to be your best friend some day.” and, “In this house we will all like each other!” This pressure tends to weigh heavy and if anything, backfire.

The idea is to address the behavior and teach the social skills in general and let that trickle down to the sibling relationship. If they are name-calling, teach and practice how we speak to people, make a rule that we all call each other by name. If they are grabbing toys, teach about turn-taking and sharing without mentioning siblings by name. Whatever the difficulty, go broad and focus on skill building first rather than directing them back to each other specifically.

During all of this, focus on giving them opportunities to share play and space. Provide fun projects and outings together. You are giving them a good chance to practice all the social skills you are teaching without forcing the flow.

Bickering

There are several things to do to put an end to bickering.

The first answer is to ignore the bicker. If you can stay out of it, completely out of it, the bickering tends to end. Children find better ways to problem solve, they lose interest and move on. If you involve yourself, try to sort things out and take sides you reinforce the bicker. Getting involved adds fuel to the fire.

If you truely can’t ignore the bicker, the second answer is to be the blanket, come down on both. You might say, “wow, this is too loud. I need you both to quiet down,” or, “this is too much. Both of you find another place to play.” Here you are ending the bicker, but without getting involved.

In either case, start spending more time coaching the positive behaviors. Talk to your children about how to speak nicely and what they can say when they are mad. Role play how to manage when things aren’t going well with their brother or sister. Teach them how and when to ask for your help.

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