Mailbag: How Do You Stop the Fighting? (and a liturgical year heads up)

Question: How do you stop the fighting between your kids? What do you do with them? I've tried many things like separation, spanking (which I hate but it sure works on my older one!), toys taken away, stickers toward new toy for good behavior, etc. but I get the impression I'm losing the battle. I have no clue how to deal with their fighting. Sometimes I wonder if their personalities are just irreconcilable.

Answer: This is a problem every family with more than one kid faces. Every. One. So don't think you're in this alone. We deal with it almost every day. My boys, especially, are challenged by the prospect of sitting next to one another in the car. Being made to hold up the roof of the van is a pretty effective deterrent in the short term, but so far we haven't been able to cure them of needing the consequences. We're still working on it.

Your girls are still young, but my five and almost three year olds do play together, or at least side by side, for most of the morning while the other kids do school. So, for us, it's been possible to have kids that age learn to mostly get along. What I try to focus on is creating camaraderie between the kids.

We remind them that they are on Team Kid and we are on Team Grownup. I want them to feel a bit of "us against them." Sibling fighting seems to wax and wane around here, sometimes it's worse than others. In bad times, we separate kids for individual chats with Mom and Dad and actually remind them how important it is to be loving and respectful toward their siblings, because these are the people God has decided to stick them with for their WHOLE LIVES.

When kids are fighting, I spend almost no time trying to figure out who is at fault. My priority is almost always to set consequences that encourage kids to work things out on their own and to purposefully discourage tattling. Unless something is "dangerous or destructive," I won't listen to tattling. Mostly, if kids are fighting, it's a little bit everyone's fault, so usually everyone shares in the consequences. If a particular toy is creating unhappiness, I take it. I say, "If that's going to be a source of sadness, it's going to go away. Either you can take turns or one of you can find something else to play with, or no one gets it." One warning, then it happens. If there is general bickering, I say, "I don't want to listen to you fight. If you can't get along, you're both going . . . " outside, to separate corners, to separate rooms, etc. One warning, then it happens. The point is to create a perception that being together is where the fun happens, and being apart is no fun.

We don't allow our older kids to just shun each other. They GET to play together, but also they MUST play together. We incentivize it a bit by requiring screen time to be with at least two people. They need to agree on what to watch or play and then be respectful of one another while doing it.

I think it's a good idea to create a feeling of responsibility in older kids. They need to feel like helping look after younger siblings, and keeping them happy, is their job. Obviously, how easily this works is going to depend a lot on temperaments, but it's possible. They need to understand that sometimes it's just in their best interest to let little sister have that thing, because otherwise they're both going to have to go outside. It builds character. But I also mindfully avoid undermining the older sibling, when they are trying to properly use their bit of authority. So if little sister is crying and big sister says, "I told her if she hit the dog with the recorder again I was going to take it away, and she did, so I did." Then I'm going to say, "Big sister is right, we don't hit the dog. I'm going to put this away until you can remember how to play with it."

I avoid charts and reward systems, because they don't work for me in the long term. I have had more success with just addressing the issues immediately as they arise. If I were starting from scratch, I'd sit my kids down and say, "Okay, I've been noticing that you two are sometime having trouble getting along. This is something that we are going to work hard to change. God made you sisters on purpose and you need to learn to play nicely together. You are the big sister, and you need to look out for your little sister and make sure she has things she likes to play with because she is littler than you. . . . You are the little sister, and you need to listen when your big sister gives you good advice and not be destructive or pesky. If you fight over a toy, I am going to take that toy away to keep you from fighting. If you can't play nicely together, you'll sit in corners separately." Then I would just be really, really consistent about following through with it. Calm but firm, calm but firm, calm but firm.

My kids really do get along pretty darn well, considering that there are a lot of people living here in this house together. We've never had anyone physically hurt in anger. But, of course, we each have our own moods and preferences and pet peeves to work through.

In my experience, this isn't an issue that is "solved." It's just something you manage, long term, over the course of your parenting.


And just a quick heads up on upcoming feasts . . .

Tomorrow, October 4th, is St. Francis of Assisi, Frankie's name day! Many parishes offer a blessing of the animals, but you can also just throw some holy water at your pets at home, and ask St. Francis to ask God to look after them for you.

And next Tuesday, October 7th, Our Lady of the Rosary, is a very popular day at the Tierney house. We always have an edible rosary of some kind. I've made a giant cupcake rosary to take to the park and share with other families. (Tracy from A Slice of Smith Life recently shared with me a photo of her awesome donut and donut hole rosary, love it!) But when it's just us, each kids gets to make and have his own chocolate chip rosary. No stress, no prep, it's stuff I have in my house, and it's sweet and memorable without making everyone totally bonkers.

And, from the archives, here's how we manage a family rosary . . .


Have a lovely weekend!

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or a child psychologist or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.