Teasing and arguing among siblings is a common parent complaint – and most of us have either experienced it as parents or as a sibling when we were growing up. I just recently came across a paper written by my older sister when she was in 7th grade. She describes me: “”I have a little sister that is in the second grade. Her name is Barbara. Sometimes she is okay, but most of the time she’s a nuisance.” This was fun to discover now that we are much older, but when siblings are experiencing a lot of rivalry it’s not fun at the time!
Parents often get tied up in trying to mediate, deciding who’s in the right, disciplining the “offender,” and otherwise trying to set their kids straight. In many families, the teasing and arguing feels within the norm as far as the intensity goes – but for others it is causing significant disruption for the family. When parents want to make a change, we need to analyze what the function or purpose is of child’s problem behavior. Most often, the purpose is to obtain attention of either the parent or of the sibling. So we want to find a way to turn this around so that the child can get the desired attention in a positive manner rather than a negative. Remember for these purposes, “negative” attention can often be very rewarding.
I like to look at preemptive strikes when it comes to this form of behavior. If you have the hypothesis that the teasing or arguing is done to get your attention, you want to ensure that your child’s positive behavior is more rewarding to him or her than negative behavior. Don’t be so busy doing other things that you only focus on your child if they start acting up. Schedule a time to do something with your child every day one on one, even if it is just a five minute game of Uno. You can make it more formal by setting a goal that if your child has an afternoon without teasing or arguing with his sister, then he can earn some time with you in the evening, such a reading a story together.
If the purpose of the teasing or arguing seems designed to get the attention of the sibling, then the best way to approach it entails getting the cooperation of that sibling. See if the sibling will agree to use a similar strategy, and preemptively spend a few minutes every day in some kind of one on one activity in order to give out that positive attention. For two or more siblings that tease and argue back and forth, they might be amenable to scheduling a time each day to do an activity together, and perhaps earn a joint reward for positive cooperative behavior during the rest of the day. Then they are giving each other positive attention, as well as earning a reward from parents for the behavior change.
Remember the principal is trying to figure out the purpose of problem behavior, and then designing a replacement behavior (that is, what we want the child to do INSTEAD of the problem behavior) that will serve the same purpose.
Thanks for stopping by. Give this a try and let me know if it works in your family.