The Family Project: bickering boys
Q. My two boys, ages eight and five, cannot get along. They are always fighting. They get along great with their friends, and they are wonderful when we have each of them alone. As soon as they are in the same room, there is constant bickering. It is so exhausting to have to come home to this after a long day at work. We have tried ignoring it, as well as punishing them, but it doesn’t help. Any suggestions?
“This is a normal problem in families,” panelist Denise Continenza said, “especially when the siblings don’t have a lot in common. Sometimes they are competing with one another, even when they don’t need to.”
Panelist Pam Wallace said the squabbling may be a way of trying to gain attention. “Kids often are trying things out on their families and siblings in the home setting where it is a safer environment.” Wallace continued. “They are practicing for when they are out in society.”
“I’d be more concerned if the boys were fighting outside the home,” Continenza said. “They seem to be doing that [behavior with friends] well.”
Acknowledging that the bickering can be exhausting for the parents, and trying to moderate the problem can take a lot of time and energy, the panel assured the parents that it would be worth the effort.
Panelist Erin Stalsitz said, “Begin by recognizing the times they do work and play well together. Catch them being good. The recognition might help in the long term.”
Continenza suggested separating the boys more often, with this approach: When the father goes out to the store, or for some other short period of time, he takes the older boy with him, and the younger boy stays with the mother to do something together. The next time, when the mother goes out, she takes the older boy with her. “This addresses the attention issue,” Continenza explained.
Wallace recommended giving the boys a project they need to complete by working together. It might take several days to complete. She said when her children had kept bickering, she gave them a bucket of soapy water to scrub the kitchen floor while she was away from the house. When she returned, she said, the children were drenched with water and sitting in a puddle on the floor, laughing their heads off.
“What began as a punishment turned out to be fun,” Wallace said. “It broke the chain by showing them the benefits of getting along. They also learned that they fail when they don’t cooperate.”
To succeed, Stalsitz said, the parents need to be on the same page. “They need to set guidelines about the bickering, and be consistent in enforcing them.”
The good news, said Wallace, is that, theoretically, the boys will grow out of the problem.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor, and Denise Continenza, extension educator.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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