Julie Smith is a mom of three kids ages 11, 12 and 14 and she admits that her tweens and teen fight more now than they did when they were younger. “The arguments are typically over menial things,” she says. “The older two also fight about class work and friends."
Why the increase in bickering? “They are all becoming their own person with their own likes and dislikes,” Smith muses. “I often tell them that being a family doesn’t mean we like the same thing. It means we accept that we are all different and love each other because of it."
Licensed psychologist Nekeshia Hammond says that squabbling among siblings is normal and, as children’s vocabularies increase, so do the name calling, teasing and hurtful comments. “As children get older, they become wiser and more creative with fighting with their sibling. Thankfully for many siblings, their fights tend to decrease with age,” she says.
What can you do in the meantime?
Take a step-back approach
What does Smith do when she hears her kids arguing? “I typically step back so they can problem solve on their own. I will, however, step in if it gets really heated or to offer a different perspective,” she says.
Smith is doing the right thing in taking a step back, says Dr. Hammond, “It is best to allow siblings to work out their disputes and differences, rather than intervening right away. Parents that intervene too often do not allow the children opportunities to not only experience conflict, but to learn healthy ways to resolve it.”
Put their phone in time-out
Mom of tweens and author of the book Bully Proofing You Jeanie Cisco-Meth says that her kids often fight over electronic devices. Sound familiar?
“It seems that siblings tend to fight over fairness of the use of electronic devices and their stuff,” she says. “One of the best ways to combat this is to take the device away for a certain amount of time. Put the game or phone in time out instead of the child.”
Cisco-Meth says it is also important to realize that your tween may have some things they don’t want their sibling to play with. Try to respect that. “Allow your child to have some things they do not have to share,” she says. “Most people have special things they don’t want others touching."
The magic of “I’m sorry”
Mom Sherryl Wilson says that she expects the siblings in her blended family to always apologize if they do something wrong.
“Our approach is based on taking responsibility for your actions first. If you are wrong, you need to not only apologize, you need to make it right,” she says. “This may not always be possible but you can do something to make up for the damage or insult you caused. On the flip side, if you were the one injured, you need to be quick to forgive and accept the apology.”
Mom of two tweens Gillian Jones agrees. “I have taught the girls that they cannot control another's poor or hurtful behavior, but what they do have control over their reaction and how they handle situations."
When fighting becomes physical
What should you do when a squabble turns into hair pulling, pushing or shoving? “If a fight was to get physical, I’d separate them immediately,” says Smith. “I have a zero-tolerance policy for hitting and harming one another. If there is a need to hit something, they can use the punching bag or take a stick to a tree — anything to release that need to hit one another.”
Help siblings bond
Smith says she finds common themes in her kids' likes to help bring them together. “Improving the sibling bond is just like improving the family bond. Quality, rather than quantity of, time together usually does the trick. We also still do a weekly family game night with the four of us, which is fun,” she says.