Confinement: how to deal with siblings quarrels

Confinement is a difficult situation to go through for the whole family. La Petite Ecoles School Principal, Maria Lamrani Alaoui, as well as the school counselor, Laurène Lahierre, regularly brainstorm to share relevant articles and offer their support to the families. 
My children are quarrelling and fighting all day during confinement!

During this long period, tension at home can be high. Disputes between siblings may be more frequent than usual; they can be unsettling, as we do not always know how to manage them. How to react appropriately without ending up yelling at our children and having to spend the day separating? 

1. Identifying the factors that spark a dispute
  • Boredom.  Even if boredom is necessary, as it allows to develop the imagination of the child, in these times of confinement it is not always constructive. 

Indeed, there is no more school, routines are disrupted, and boredom can quickly settle in. To avoid this, make a schedule of the activities of the day. An activity that lasts more than 30 minutes is already quite long for the little ones. It is therefore better to plan activities that are 10-20 minutes long.

  • Searching for sensory stimulation. Children enjoy physical games, so better anticipate: for them to spend their energy, introduce physical activities (hide-and-seek, obstacle course, orientation race in the house…). It is not always easy to organise, but it often helps alleviate the tension between children. 

  • Looking for attention.

Your child appreciates your presence to share his/her discoveries and successes; remember that your attention nurtures his/her self-esteem.

Save some exclusive moments with your child. Parents who are working from home can plan specific periods of time in their schedule, to spend with their children. These can take different forms: storytelling, drawing, dancing, cooking…

  • Avoiding a certain task or an unpleasant activity. Children can feel anxious when facing certain situations (when learning something new, or other) and as a result, they deploy different strategies to avoid them. 

Sometimes the way out is through quarrelling: teach your children to take a step back, analyse the situation with them and teach them to express their disagreement in a different way (“I have noticed that every time we have to do the drawing activity, you are in a bad mood, why is that? Don’t you like drawing? What is it you do not like about it? …”).

  • Reaction to change. Children have an abstract notion of time and transitions represent an interruption as well as a break from the present situation. This can lead to frustration. During this phase, children feel irritated and it is not always easy to obtain their collaboration. 

Bickering often occurs at this time. Actively involve your children in those changes (i.e.: setting up the table, tidying up…) This way, they become actors of the change rather than enduring it. 

  • Reaction to conflicts. Disagreements and conflicts are part of everyday life, for adults and children alike. Let’s keep in my mind that the difference lies in the way we approach these conflicts and that children learn by mimicking. Indeed, conflict resolution promotes the development of your child’s socio-emotional capabilities. Address day-to-day conflicts by looking for solutions together. 

Remember that disputes with your life partner in front of your children, or conflicts between adults in general always exacerbate conflicts between siblings. 

2. Anticipating fights by offering alternative solutions: 

  • Set up a structured framework of activities and promote autonomy.

  • Encourage your children to play autonomously by clearly identifying beforehand the activities they can do and the time needed for each activity. 
  • To avoid getting regularly interrupted while working, you may introduce a colour code that will help your children identify when you are available. You can also use the Snakes and Ladders game: move your token forward regularly until it gets to the finishing line (the moment they can come and see you). 
  • Be firm about screen time. Screens may occupy our children for a while but spending too much time on them can also lead to disputes and fatigue.
  • Set up fair rules regarding sharing. Once you have identified the cause of the disagreement, try to establish fair rules that apply to sharing, depending on your children’s age (i.e.: the youngest gets to play longer in his/her bath while the eldest can go to bed a bit later). 

A word of caution: fair rules for sharing does not necessarily mean equal distribution between the children, as this may be perceived as unfair, and therefore more difficult to accept.
  • Allow yourself a few seconds before reacting. Delay a little by giving yourself 20-30 seconds before stepping in, thus letting your children grab this opportunity to manage the situation by themselves. 

  • Break off the cycle of disputes quickly. Step in before that phase (which can seem playful at first) gets worse, because children are still sensitive to your demand to stop. To break the cycle, you must be proactive (anticipation) rather than reactive. It is THE right moment when you need all your energy to offer a new activity in order to regain control of the situation. 
  • Teach your children to identify their emotions and learn to manage their frustration (relaxation, breathing exercise, counting to 10 before responding, fetching their favourite cuddly toy…). 

3. During the squabble

  • Stay calm and avoid the fight to spread to the whole family. We often feel like overreacting and raising our voice louder than the children to separate them. Doing so will not solve anything, on the contrary! Keeping composure will allow the children to mimic your behaviour and help manage conflict in a different manner.  

  • Separate them. Without interfering too much verbally, encourage your children to go to their separate rooms. If they share the same bedroom, choose two different areas where they can be quiet, separated from each other (i.e.: the kitchen and the living room). Guiding them to another room is often the best solution, as children will generally follow you easily if you move around the house. 

4. After the fight, once the tension has subdued 

  • Help your children talk things through. It is important that each of them be heard and that he/she listens to his/her sibling’s perspective. The goal is not to resume the debate, but to let each of them explain his/her point of view. 

  • Point out the consequences of the fight. « In this moment, do you feel happy? », « According to you, is your brother going to offer to play with you again, after what happened? », « Now that you have broken that toy, you can no longer play with it together ». 

To conclude, remember to take this opportunity to set up new positive habits, thus helping the whole family feel serene: quiet moments spent together, designing of an album about the family life in time of confinement, list of three positive things that happened during the day, identification of words that make us feel good or bad (sweet words vs harmful words), game of doing good… Reducing fights between siblings is not simple, but let’s not forget that disagreements are also part of family life!