Bickering: How to Handle It without Yelling or Time-Out

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What is it about sibling relationships that feeds the bickering bus all day every day?  Is it the sheer proximity our kids have with their siblings?  Is it the similar genetics, the limited resources of parental attention and living space, or the ornery enjoyment of pestering another person that drives our kids to continuously push each others’ buttons?

Listening to your kids bickering can be exhausting unless you learn some ways to handle it. Here are fantastic ways to handle bickering in your home and it may not be what you think. No timeouts and no yelling! Check it out!

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions!  I do, however, have some strategies that I have actually used in my own home to deal with the seemingly constant teasing, goading, arguing, and bickering that occur on a daily basis in my house. 

As moms, we want our children to get along with each other and to build lasting relationships, and we also want a peaceful environment in our homes.  Nothing crashes that ideological fantasy faster than the sound of children bickering over the smallest things. 

What if I told you time-out is not an appropriate response to bickering?  Or that yelling (AKA losing your cool) only feeds the fire?  Bickering is directly linked to boredom, stimulation, and feelings of acceptance and it can be managed with a few simple strategies.

Tip #1: Change Activities

Most petty arguments are not malicious, rather steam vents from pent up boredom, and time-out does not allow acceptable venting. It allows sitting and thinking about being bad…seriously, do you think kids really think about behaving better while in time-out?

As a general rule, bored children will bicker.  Sometimes, simply changing our children’s activities will nip bickering in the bud.

Children have very short attention spans and crankiness ensues as soon as boredom sets in.  Since kids are still learning emotional self-regulation, they tend to express their emotional turmoil by stealing toys from siblings, throwing things, fake crying, or yelling “NO!!!”

Time-out won’t fix your child’s boredom, which is why it’s not typically the best response to this kind of misbehavior. Fifteen to thirty minutes per activity is the length of attention span my young children have, and we move on to something new after half an hour. 

Loosely scheduling our daily activities in 30 minute chunks will help keep our kids engaged and content rather than bored and cranky.  Even older children thrive on keeping activities within the 30 minute time limit and benefit from breaking up long sessions of work or study.

Some simple ways to change the activity up:

  • Impromptu dance party–with loud music and a good beat
  • Add water–either take the kids outside and turn the hose on or stick them in the bathtub/shower with some water and shaving cream
  • Go outside–even in cold weather.  The time it takes to bundle up is so worth the space and freedom our kids need from each other.  Just having some space to themselves can calm those bicker sessions immediately.
  • Plop yourself down and start reading aloud–don’t ask if the kids want a story, just start reading. I use this change-up when we’re in-between activities (i.e. waiting for food to cook) and we are bored and hangry. Grabbing a favorite picture book and randomly reading it in the middle of the kitchen floor shocks the arguments right out of my kids’ mouths.

For some examples and how to handle different situations, Super Nanny has some fantastic advice

Tip # 2: Split the Kids Up

Bickering is also a symptom of over-stimulation. Families are busy organisms and homes–especially homes where homeschooling happens–are busy, busy places. Our kids and ourselves need to split up and get some space from each other.

I’m not talking about sticking bicker-ers in time-out until they calm down–I’m talking about 15 minutes for everyone, Mom especially, to separate and rest frazzled nerves.

A very wise Grandma once told me “Not every misbehavior of a child needs to be recognized, let alone disciplined.”  I try to remember this especially in conjunction with bickering.  Homeschooled kids are around their siblings a lot, and need time to get away from each other throughout the day.

We call it “quiet time” when everyone including me heads to their room for fifteen minutes. I set the timer on the oven and close everyone’s doors. My five year old, yells at the top of her lungs for a few seconds and then settles into an imaginary play. My two year old climbs out of her crib and comes to find me. I take her back and offer toys or books then leave again. Mostly I scroll social media or make my bed.

The timer rings and everyone is allowed to leave their rooms. Sometimes my kids stay longer, sometimes they are refreshed and ready to be agreeable, and sometimes the only difference is that I’m a bit more capable of calming and redirecting their emotions.

Tip #3: Bring Everyone Together

My final bickering buster is to bring everyone together for a family project. Obviously, hard manual labor gets rid of any lurking boredom–win! It also lends a sense of importance and acceptance to every member of the family.

Oftentimes we need reminding of why being a family, especially a homeschooling family, is a blessing. We forget the joy of family life and tend to focus on how annoying and peevish family members are.

What better way to encourage gratitude for the many hands and personalities than to stack an entire shed full of firewood? Rake all the leaves in the yard? Wash and detail the sticky, dirty family car? Scrub the mud room floor on hands and knees? Weed the garden? Or simply wash a sink load of dishes together or fold that towering pile of laundry?

Hard physical labor is good for our bodies, and it can boost our attitudes if used in the right way.  Used as punishment, manual labor becomes half-hearted and sloppy.  Kinda like sitting in time-out and thinking of all the ways to be bad…

However, if mom or dad gathers the bickering children and says “alright, I can see that we’re all bothered by each other today. But instead of arguing, let’s work together and see just how awesome our family is. Let’s see how strong you are together!” Or something similar that’s not so cheesy. 

Basically, bring all the kids together with you and spend some time working with your hands, singing silly songs, or just chit chatting.

Simple, repetitive work can keep hands occupied and allow for  conversations that include even the smallest family members.  Feeling accepted and secure diminishes a child’s need to be a bicker bug.

REMEMBER: Discipline Bickering over Punishing It

Over the long run, it’s better to discipline bickering rather than punish it.  Punishing bickering does not address its roots which are: boredom, over-stimulation, and lack of acceptance. True, there’s not always time (or energy) to change activities, split everyone up, or start a family work project in the heat of the arguments. However, these strategies don’t have to be used every time to be effective! 

Used overtime, these tips become a proactive, built-in defense against bickering and general contention in the home.

How do you handle bickering?  Any tips for me? Here are some tips and helps for overprotecting parenting.