Bickering is not yet a full-fledged fight, but it could become one. Or it could just go on all day long until it drives you crazy. Some amount of bickering is normal, since kids are still learning how to express their needs appropriately. But bickering is always a sign that something is less than optimal. You can think of it like a light on your car dashboard saying you need an oil change. The first time it flickers, you don’t have to take action. But if you ignore it repeatedly, the light will become constant, and at some point your car will break down.

How should you intervene?

  • Calm yourself
  • Describe the problem with empathy, without blame or judgment.
  • Set limits on meanness by restating family rules about kindness.
  • Coach each child to express their feelings and needs without attacking the other.
  • Coach kids to problem-solve s necessary.

Here are some examples of how to put it all together.

A temporary conflict of needs

Kids can often work this out themselves if the parent provides a little momentum.

Emma: “Move over! You don’t own the couch!”

Mason: “I was here first.”

Mom: “I hear two kids who both want one couch. This is a tough situation, because we aren’t getting another couch! What can you do to work this out?”

Mason: “I was here first. It’s still my turn.”

Emma: “I don’t like watching scary movies from the floor. The couch feels safer. Can we share it?”

Mason: “Only if you don’t touch me, and you don’t scream at the scary parts.”

Emma: “Okay. How about we put this pillow between us so I don’t accidentally touch you?”

Mason: “Okay. But don’t scream!”

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When children bicker: Stopping the fight before it starts