A Magic Phrase to End Sibling Bickering


If you are anything like our family, this past year has brought so much togetherness. 

My small family of four wakes up together, eats breakfast together, has some form of midmorning activity, then another meal you guessed it, together, and on and on until bath and bed and maybe a small window of parent time before the cycle repeats. For the most part, this togetherness has been an incredibly enriching time period for us all, until it hasn’t. 

Our girls, ages 5 and 2, play as sisters very peacefully most of the time. Some of my favorite times of the day are randomly walking in on some world they have created. One day it may be a lava floor, a barnyard party with stuffed animals and musical instruments, or a room full of fairy dust (with only slightly questionable damage to floors and furniture.)

But there are also THOSE days. 

The days when we have all had too much togetherness, and the very glare from a sibling across the room is just too much to handle. I actually remember those days, myself, as a now grown-up sibling to a close-in-age sister. The constant push and pull of complete joy for having someone to play with and extreme competition when sharing attention just seems too hard, is all too fresh. Yet, as a parent, I have found a magic phrase for keeping the peace when things start to get out of control in our home.

When the voices start to rise, when I start to hear the sassy back and forth, and when I hear the inevitably “MOM” from across the room, I am prepped and ready to deliver this magic.  It goes like this:

Preschooler:  MOMMMMMMMMM, (my sister) just took this toy and I wanted it.

Mom:  That must be so hard (empathize), I wonder what we could do to fix this problem?

And that’s it………

This phrase is impactful for many reasons. It communicates that this problem is not mine, it’s not either child’s problem (alone), it is OUR problem. And, by using this magic phrase, parents are communicating that we are in this together with our kids. In fact, we can’t wait to hear what incredibly creative solutions our kids may come up with. Hint, the pressure is off of us, mamas. 

What is more empowering for our little ones than to get so much practice solving these incredibly important family disagreements when the stakes are low and parental support is high?  

It seems like it should be more complicated. And as a parent constantly battling the urge to fix it all, I have enjoyed the peace in just lowering my bar and joining in on the problem-solving. Oftentimes, my suggestions to split the farm animals down the middle, hand out the baby dolls “even-steven”, and attempt to direct each child to different activities fall short. I am constantly amazed at the solutions my kids come up with when they are in control of the outcomes. They almost always find creative ways to make it all work, even with minimal input from their well-intentioned, but obviously less creative parents. 

So, the next time you hear the voice start to rise and things seem to be at a tipping point when the kids are playing, remember this magic phrase: That must be so hard, I wonder what we could do to fix this problem. 

Although the strategy is simple, the impact is huge, and I hope you experience the same peace in your home with this magic phrase as we have in ours.

**I feel It important to point out that this magic phrase can only be used with “typical” sibling bickering.  As soon as it crosses the line to physical fighting we step in with a focus on keeping everyone safe. 



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