Bickering Siblings

Jan Faull, M. Ed, answers a parent's question about bickering siblings.
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Q. I am fed up with my girls' bickering. They are 13 and 14 and they have been arguing nonstop since they could speak. I feel more like a referee than a mom. It's gotten to the point where I delay leaving work because I know I'm going to have to face their squabbling the minute I get in the door. What can I do to help them call a truce? They ruined the family vacation with their constant arguing. I am dreading the holidays.

A. At 13 and 14 it will be difficult to change the arguing pattern your girls have established between the two of them. This bickering is nothing more than a habit that is solidly embedded in their relationship. Also keep in mind that these sibling squabbles most likely occur when you're in earshot.

Nevertheless, your question remains, "What to do about all the bickering?" Start by taking each separately out to lunch. Tell each how you feel. Explain you don't appreciate coming home after work to all this quarreling. Go on to say, you're angry because their made the family vacation unpleasant, and that you're dreading the holidays.

Once you've stated your case, ask each for suggestions for ending the bickering. Most likely each will blame the other. Allow the sisters to purge their negative feelings for the other. Then, validate those feelings by saying, "You're jealous and resentful of your sister. You can feel that way but I'd like the bickering to end at least when I come home from work each evening. Do you have any suggestions?" Next, move on by writing down all of their suggestions for ending these verbal skirmishes.

Once you have their suggestions written down, work together to develop a set of rules. One rule would be no bickering when mom comes home from work.

Also, create a forum that takes place on Saturday morning. Here they'll be able to voice their sisterly irritations and annoyances. This way when they start to argue, you can ask each to write down their gripe for discussion during the family forum.

If they violate the "no after-work bickering rule," it will be up to you to retreat to your bedroom until it stops. Here's how to proceed. Let's say you come home from work, at first all seems well between your daughters, one is on the phone, the other at the computer. You begin to put dinner together and one starts bugging the other for computer time. Don't say anything except, "What's the rule about after work arguing?" If they continue, make yourself a nutritious snack and retreat to your bedroom. Don't huff, look annoyed, yell, pout or cry. Just proceed to your bedroom, lock the door if necessary. When the two stop the verbal scuffle, return to the kitchen. Don't say anything.

It will probably take three days to three weeks to break this negative after-work bickering habit that exists between your daughters. Your hope is that the arguing will be replaced with positive interactions but at first the most you can hope for is a neutral truce between the two of them.


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