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Family Ties: Sibling conflicts Combating tattling, bickering and teasing
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By the end of the holidays, siblings have spent much time together. As a result, conflicts, such as tattling, bickering and teasing heighten.

It is very typical to hear comments such as "Momma, Logan just took my game away." "It's my turn to choose the TV program." "No, it isn't, it's mine." "I won the game, and you didn't." Sound familiar?

A certain amount of tattling, bickering and teasing is inevitable between siblings. However, how a parent handles these situations will make a great difference on the intensity and length of the conflicts.

When children tattle, bicker and tease it is often a struggle for power, an attempt to get attention or wanting to boost their feeling of self-worth. As a parent, you want your children to trust you to help them when needed, but just when should you intervene? How much referring should you do? How can you keep the conflicts to a minimum?

Here are a few ideas you might try:

Tattling: Be sure your children know if a sibling is in danger, they are definitely to tell you or another adult. But usually, the tattling child is wanting to feel power over the other by pointing out a rule they feel should be enforced.

When you take sides, it gives power to the child. Instead, ask the child to tell what they were doing, not their brother or sister. Direct them to go back and do what is right for them to do instead of focusing on the sibling's actions.

Teasing: One rule each family should have and enforce is "no put-downs allowed." A child's feeling of self-worth is fragile. Each one should be appreciated for their individual differences and contributions to the family, not put down or made fun of for not being just like a brother or sister.

Parents can help your children understand they cannot control what is said about them, but they do have a choice in how they respond to it. Often teasing is done just to get a reaction.

If there is no reaction, or a different one than expected (like agreeing with the statement or responding with a compliment), the situation is often diffused.

Bickering: Fighting over toys or whose turn it is are often the basis for sibling bickering. I was visiting recently with my just turned 6-year-old nephew, Logan and his soon to turn 13-year-old sister, Stormy. They were "bickering" over who should be sitting in the big recliner. Stormy sighed and pointedly told Logan that he was "sooo" immature, he replied seriously that no he wasn't, he was now 6. My sister settled the argument by sitting in the recliner herself.

Many times when parents try to intervene and settle the argument, they usually don't hear the whole story and come to a wrong conclusion.

This reinforces the fighting for the "winner" and frustrates the "loser." Instead, directing the children to work out their own solution is doing everyone a favor. One idea is to put the toy (or other possession being fought over) in "time out" until the siblings figure out a way to share.

They will learn a lot about problem solving, and soon find working out solutions is much more effective than bickering. Parents can encourage problem solving by rewarding their children whenever they hear them trying to solve a problem or suggesting a compromise.

Let them know ahead of time you will be noticing and keeping track of their good behavior. After a set number of stars or checks, they will get a special treat or reward.

Adapted from University of Nevada, Lancaster Cooperative Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month. Contact: 770-535-8290.