Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

My son, 11, and daughter, 9, used to get along great, but now they are constantly bickering. When the two of them are in the car at the same time it is a non-stop verbal assault. How do I assert myself without just joining in the verbal sparring?

BBB: Wouldn’t it be great if our children got along perfectly and were respectful and loving with one another all the time? I’m sorry, but that’s just not going to happen. Siblings have a unique relationship.They love and hate one another in the blink of an eye.

Were they to treat their friends the way they treat one another, they would have no friends. So all of the frustrations, friend issues, school and sports business gets taken out on the sibling.

1. You need to butt out of their relationship. Being too involved actually fuels their fighting.

Sibling relationships are usually a triangle—child, child, parent. If you were to remove one element, the fighting would lesson tremendously or even disappear.

Since your attention (support) is what each really wants, the siblings vie for your attention, drawing you into their squabbling.

If the bickering is in the car, hum to yourself or turn on the radio. If the fighting is out of control, jerk over to the side of the road, get out of the car and check your email for a few minutes. You can open the door and say, “I don’t know and I don’t want to know what this is about. What I do know is I cannot drive with all that noise. It’s distracting and unsafe for me so I’ll wait until you’re done. Let me know.”

At home, you can put up a sign in the kitchen indicating it’s a fight-free zone. When they fight, escort them out saying, “You have violated the fight-free zone. Kindly take this somewhere else.”

You can also remove yourself from any bickering by going to your room and closing the door.

The idea is to completely remove yourself from their fights. Tell them you’re tired of their fighting, you’re sorry they can’t find a way to get along, but it’s their problem; you will no longer get involved.

When you have private time with each, you can be a container for their complaints and feelings. Then you can brainstorm without judging.

2. Find activities and rituals that will tie your whole family together. These things are the glue that brings a family together, whether it’s weekly family movie night, watching a TV show or playing a board game together.

Right now your kids’ relationship is defined by their bickering. It’s time to change the definition.

Finally, make sure you are spending enough alone time with each of the kids regularly. When their tanks are full and when each feels that s/he is significant to you, I promise there will be a change in their relationship.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.