041 – Chapter 5 – Part 2


Step 1: Challenges in Specifying Expectation (continued) 

Our two sons, seven-year-old Austin and nine-year-old Hunter, constantly pick at each other. It’s hard to figure out how to write an item that will stop it. We doubt the program can help with something that has been going on for years. Any ideas?

Many parents report concerns about children bickering. Initially I had misgivings about how to deal with this in a positive way. It is hard to avoid focus on all the things children should not do but it turns out that many parents find success in this area. The item may be as simple as:

Hunter, you are successful when you get along with Austin for X minutes.

Include a similar item in Austin’s chart, taking care to define a realistically reasonable number of minutes for each child. Then monitor success and provide the specified praise and credits for each success.

– – – – – – – – – – –

A parent’s love is whole no matter how many times divided.

                                                                          ~Robert Brault

– – – – – – – – – – –

Since “gets along with” is somewhat vague, why do so many parents report success with this sort of item? Careful consideration reveals three ways for children to succeed and only one way for them to fail on this item: 

  • If Hunter really wants to succeed, even if Austin doesn’t care about his credits, the bickering will likely fizzle; it really does take two to tangle.
  • Similarly, if Austin wants to succeed, even if Hunter doesn’t care, any fussing will likely stop because Austin won’t participate.
  • And, of course, if both want to succeed, things will go fine.
  • Therefore, only if both boys happen at the same time to have no concern about earning their credits will bickering between them continue. Three out of four represents pretty good odds. 

Even children who fight all the time typically like being together and separating them often provides extra incentive for them to calm themselves. If you make it clear that being together is a privilege achieved only through behaving appropriately toward each other, you may find that your children change their behavior, though maybe only after testing the limits a few times.

If the bickering between Austin and Hunter goes beyond what is acceptable to you, tell them that since they are unable to behave appropriately, you are going to help them by putting each in a quiet area where he can calm down before returning to other activities. Separate the children enough that they can’t keep the hassles going by taunting each other, even from a distance.

We have an eleven-year-old (Lin) and a six-year-old (Mi Li). Lin is always picking on Mi Li. Then Lin gets upset when we punish her and says Mi Li is pestering her all the time. How can we deal with this problem?

Much of what I said in the previous answer applies here, though the sizable age difference may make it likely that at least some times Lin actually does not want to be around Mi Li. A girl her age needs time with age-mates, away from her younger sister who has such different interests and skills.

Be sure you have included age-appropriate and realistically reachable target behaviors in each girl’s chart to deal with the problem. Once that is done, take time to observe carefully what really goes on between the girls. When an older child picks on a younger one, often the younger has learned to retaliate against the older until getting a reaction. When the older child reacts negatively, the younger screams and that brings parental help. Sometimes when the parents’ backs are turned, the younger child snickers to the older one, enraging the older child, who feels victimized by the younger child. That rage, in turn, makes the older child all the more resentful and more sensitive to even a little pestering. This sort of vicious cycle can take over family life with the parents increasingly annoyed at the older child, whose distress and need for positive attention grows and grows.

If there is any chance of such a pattern in your home, you will need to make changes to stop the cycle. One big part of that is to be sure each child is clear about what positive behaviors will win your attention and praise. The other part is to remove the children from each other if they continue bickering after you have told them to stop – without your blaming one or the other. It also is important to model for the children your own calm manner.


This entry was posted in Chapter 5. Bookmark the permalink.