Grandchildren quarreling again? Here are some ideas to help sort things out.
1. What is the pattern?
Does the fighting occur mostly when one or both grandkids are cranky from being tired or hungry? If either of these reasons is a possibility, remember to keep snacks on hand or make sure they get enough sleep (if they don’t live with you, maybe they can have a short nap when they come to visit – or before). If you’re the after-school caregiver:
2. Teach them positive ways to respond.
Talk to your grandkids about constructive ways to respond to teasing (it could mean that, during an argument, one of them would walk away in order to stop an argument from escalating). Role playing is a good way to help them learn appropriate (but polite) responses.
3. Give Them Your Support Individually
Help your grandchildren improve their self-esteem (so they don’t have to pick on each other as a way to make themselves feel better by making the other sibling feel worse) by praising them for the good things they do – a variation on the management theme of “catching someone doing something right.” Encourage them to see each other as partners in play, rather than competitors. Help them to participate, as individuals, in the activities in which they excel, whether it be sports or hobbies or academics.
4. Praise for Positive Behavior
Don’t forget to praise and compliment. (Remember the key: be specific. Not “you’re wonderful,” but “you chose such beautiful colors in the flowers you painted,” “I’m so grateful you’re strong enough to carry those buckets outside.”) Let them know how happy it makes you to see them playing and sharing together and getting along. Children want to please. You might even want to start a “points chart” on the fridge in which you can mark up points every time they get along well with each other and cooperate. Once they reach a certain number of points, you could take them out to dinner, or order in a movie or a pizza.
5. Have Alone-Time with Each One
Fighting for your attention could be one reason they are squabbling with each other. Even negative attention (in the form of you yelling at them), experts agree, is still a form of attention and, therefore, better than nothing. If you have individual alone time with each one, even if its only a half-hour, the attention should help cut down on the fighting. During your alone time you can help each one talk about what is bothering her, so that she feels she is listened to, understood, and not ignored.
6. Don’t Label
Kids often feel they are compared with a successful sibling and this can cause rivalry. Find what is unique about each child and focus on those positive characteristics. Never say, “Why can’t you be like your brother/sister?” Those kind of remarks only build resentment.
7. Stick to Rules of the House
Unconditional love does not mean no boundaries. Kids who break the house rules should know they will be punished (no tv, no video games, no cell phone, no iPod, no play dates). Be very clear on what behavior is, and is not, acceptable. Can “no squabbling” be one of the rules? Probably not – but at least there won’t be any quarreling over what is and is not “okay with Grandma.”
8. Model Respect
Talking about respect is one thing – showing it is another. Respect is learned, and a child learns respect by being treated with respect.
This means listening to the child with attention and interest (but it does not mean: letting the child interrupt you or demand your attention in an unsocialized manner).
It means honoring the child’s privacy (but it does not mean: allowing a child to use privacy to hide antisocial or destructive behaviors; e.g., drugs, stolen properties, inappropriate internet relationships, etc.).
It means saying hello and goodbye and giving information (“I’m running out for some tomato sauce and a loaf of bread; I’ll be back in 20 minutes”), it means showing kindness and tolerance for their friends.
The Golden Rule is a handy guideline here – we’ll get respect if we give it.
9. Help Kids Solve Their Own Problems
Learning to solve problems without your help is a good way for your grandchildren to improve their communication skills and learn how to negotiate in positive ways for what they need and want. Of course, you should hang around in the background and keep a watchful eye. Once they are able to sort things out, let them know how proud you are of their reasoning skills.
10. Step In as a Last Resort
Sometimes, kids just can’t work out their differences and we have to step in, and help them resolve their issues, especially if it looks like things are getting heated and somebody could get hurt. If this is the case, get the facts from everyone involved (though, admittedly, it can be hard, as each is bound to blame the other!). Make it clear that certain behavior, like hitting and hurtful language, will not be tolerated.
It isn’t easy to be the caregiver of two or more grandchildren, especially when your daughter sees you as an unpaid babysitter, who was “so good at raising me that you must really want to do it again”, but with some patience and a few tools like those above, everyone can get through the day. They might even, heaven forbid, learn to get along with and actually like being around each other!