Quelling Sibling Quibbling


Dear Dr. Ray, My twin sons are age ten. They bicker and battle about one third of the time they're together. Is this normal, and what can I do about it? - The Referee

Sibling quibbling is the most common denominator of households with two or more kids. Siblings are like binary chemicals. Separate, they may be quiet and harmless. Mixed, the combination can be explosive.

To answer your first question — Is it normal for siblings to bicker about one third of their time together? No, it is not. One third sounds a little low. My guess is that typical brothers and sisters wrangle about half the time they're in proximity.

Your sons don't seem to bring out the absolute worst in each other. Keep in mind, they don't bicker about two thirds of the time. Of course, I'm assuming that this is conscious time. They probably seldom bother each other when they're asleep — both asleep, that is.

At times, the baiting, teasing, arguing and free-for-alling that erupts when sibs get too close to each other ("too close" is defined as "on the same continent") can get so nasty you wonder if either feels an ounce of affection for the other. In fact, brothers and sisters can battle heavy and long and still be normal. They may sound scary, but the sibling bond can bend nearly in half before it breaks. If the saying is true that "You only hurt the ones you love," then the mutual love of some siblings knows no bounds.

What breeds all this friction? The reasons are almost as many as kids themselves: merely spending time together, sharing rooms or possessions, competing for your attention, searching for tattle worthy crimes — serious things like talk-burping, looking at each other, or squirting water through your teeth. Perhaps most simply, some kids just consider their brother or sister a tag-along, pain in their anatomy, who can't wait to run to mom and "tell so he can get Brownie points."

If you wonder how much bickering is too much, ask yourself these questions: How often do the kids really fight? Are their quiet times together slipping by you unnoticed? It's easy to hear only the noise and not the silence. Are they playing even as they fight? In other words, they can't live with each other but they can't live without each other. How long has the squabbling been their style? It's not unusual for siblings who were former friends to pass through stretches of weeks, months, or even a few years when they don't seem to have much in common. In good families, maturity works magic. Most kids eventually realize that brother Benedict isn't a total turncoat, bad-guy after, all.

There's a bright side to chronic sibling quibbling. As long as Rocky and Bruno are spending so much energy trying to out think each other, they're less able to plan how to get around you. If you have trouble staying a step ahead of one kid, imagine how tough it would be if they always cooperated in their mischief.

Sibling quibbling is pretty normal. That doesn't mean you can't take steps to quiet the tumult a bit.

So the answer is no, it is not normal for siblings to battle about one third of their time together. In fact, one third sounds a little low. Many brothers and sisters hover around the fifty percent mark and above.

Now onto suggestions for quelling sibling quibbling without becoming a full time referee. The first guiding rule: Never try to figure out who started it. I suppose I should never say never where kids are concerned. Every once in a while you just might have to finger a culprit, like the time Bruno tied Rocky to the trash barrel for pick-up. Nearly always, however, playing detective in kid clashes will only result in your ears being assaulted by stereophonic discord at 135 decibels (fifteen above pain threshold).

Rocky: Mom, make him quit looking at me.

Bruno: I wasn't looking at your stupid puke-face.

Rocky: You were too, and you burped right on my head.

Bruno: I did not. I faked it. And that's because you kicked my truck over on purpose.

Rocky: Your truck? Grandma gave that truck to both of us. Besides, I was playing with it until I went to the bathroom.

And the dance goes on. You'd have a better chance at working off the national debt than digging to the bottom of one of these interchanges. Instead of trying to ascertain who did what to whom when and with what, establish a few house rules for a fair fight. Since your sons are similar in size and age, try these.

  1. You will not intervene until the melee gets loud enough to bother you. In essence, you're telling the boys: Go ahead and bicker, as long as you're quiet about it.

  2. If you do have to intervene, no tattling will be heeded. All parties will receive equal consequences.

  3. What are some equitable consequences? Here are some favorites of veteran parents of the sibling wars.

  1. Immediate separation. Both boys can sit for a specified time in chairs, on floors, in corners, in rooms or wherever you choose, and as far from one another as possible. Do you have a second house in Florida?

    If they sit at the same table, neither can get up until each gives the other permission. They'll either quickly figure out how to cooperate or they'll rot there until bedtime.

  2. Both boys can sit back-to-back for, say, fifteen minutes and neither can leave until they shake hands and part in a truce. Some siblings consider this infinitely worse than separate neutral corners. They usually gag, grumble something about getting cooties, or, "Mom, he's pushing his back against me as hard as he can on purpose."

  3. Both can write a 100-word essay on self-control or getting along together. How about letters of apology to each other'? Minimum fifty words.

  4. The TV, bike, game, or whatever was the focus of the fracas can be removed and given to each separately for, say, ten minutes. If, however, the boys can play cooperatively, they can share the disputed object for an hour.

The eventual success of any approach lies in trying to stay out of the minor scrapes as much as possible and in using the same clear-cut consequences for both boys when you do intervene.

There's a bright spot to quelling sibling quibbling. You're forced to hone the skill of dodging dead end arguments. And that's a skill that's valuable not just with children, but grown-ups as well.



Ray Guarendi "Quelling Sibling Quibbling." kidbrat.com.

Reprinted with permission of Ray Guarendi.


Raymond N. Guarendi, aka Dr. Ray, is a practicing clinical psychologist and authority on parenting and behavioral issues active in the Catholic niche media. Guarendi is an advocate of common sense approaches to child rearing and discipline issues. Guarendi received his B.A. and M.A. at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, and his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1978. He is the author of You're a better parent than you think!: a guide to common-sense parenting, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It; Straight Answers to Hearfelt Questions, Discipline that lasts a lifetime: the best gift you can give your kids, and Back to the Family.

Copyright © 2001 Ray Guarendi

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