Teaching Our Children How to Solve Disagreements

As I travel around the United States speaking to parents, there is always one topic that comes up over and over again that so many parents worry over and struggle to find solutions for.  That topic is sibling relationships.  I’m constantly being asked questions like, “How do I stop the fighting?” “What is considered a normal amount of arguing?”  “How can I help my children get along?”  First, please let me remind you, I’m not a licensed therapist, but I can offer you some guiding principles that I know are true and that I know work based on my own personal experience working with my children and hundreds of other children.  Please consider the following ideas.

It is normal that siblings will disagree, but it is not acceptable that siblings should disrespect, verbally abuse, physically abuse, or do any other behavior that degrades, hurts, or humiliates their siblings.  Of course we all disagree at times, but we must learn and teach our children how to handle disagreements with love and respect and yes, this is possible.  First, we have to raise our expectations in our homes of appropriate behavior.  Second, mom and dad or the adults in the home, have to be the living example of appropriate behavior.  Here are four steps to teach your children how to handle disagreements.  These steps should be discussed every single time there is a disagreement in your home, until going through these steps become “second nature.”  

Step 1:  Recognize there is a disagreement.  Meaning, as soon as we realize that we are having a disagreement with someone, we verbally state it.  At first, this might seem silly or redundant, but it is an important step because when we verbalize this, we’re actually helping to validate one another’s opinion which is often not done in an open disagreement.  It would sound like this.  “So I see that we do not share the same opinion on this.  It looks like you want to watch this, but I would prefer to watch that.” 

Step 2:  Both parties are invited to politely explain their position. This can only take place with soft voices.  This might sound like this: 
Child 1 “I want to watch this, because we haven’t seen it in a long time and the movie you want to watch scares me.  
Child 2 “I really don’t like your movie because I think it’s boring.”

Step 3:  Both parties suggest a solution and then INVITE the other person to agree.  An invitation is very different than a command.  It might sound like this:
Child 1 “Would you be willing to let me watch my movie while you go play with your legos and then you can watch your movie while I go do my homework?”
Child 2  “Would you be willing to let me watch my movie first, since I have scouts tonight and then you can watch your movie while I’m at scouts?”

Step 4:  If we don’t reach an agreement, we both agree that we must move on to another activity with neither person enjoying the first request.  This means that no one gets what they want when no one can make a compromise.

Parents, I would suggest that you make a poster with these steps listed and hang in your home.  On the poster write:  The Four Steps to Solving a Disagreement
Step 1  Recognize
Step 2  Explain
Step 3  Suggest and Invite
Step 4  Move On

Spend some time teaching and role playing these steps with your children until they seem to understand them.  Each time a disagreement arises, walk them to the poster and help them to go through the steps.  Soon, they should do this without your help.  If at any time, voices are raised, ugly words are said, physical contact is made, then the violator must go be alone until they are ready and willing to politely walk through these steps with love and respect.  Parents, never accept your children being ugly towards each other.  Never accept yelling, calling names, mean words, etc.  There are so many adults walking around today with broken relationships with their siblings and it often goes all the way back to the way they treated each other as children. 

Have a great month.
Monica Irvine