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Sibling Rivalry: How to Stop Backseat Bickering


"I told you to stop that… right now!"

"If you don't stop poking your brother, I'll…"

"Just wait until we get home…"

Then there's the parental arm flailing from the driver's or passenger's seat into the backseat…

Why is it that children fight most often in the car? It's because they're in a contained space, and they're jockeying for position to see who is the most dominant among the herd, and even to see how they can dominate you. It's fascinating how children who are powerful kids select their areas to try to dominate you. Usually it's places where you're fish in a barrel (like driving a car) and there's no hope of escape.

So what do you do? When siblings are going after each other in the back of the car and you're driving, it can really distract you. Yelling at them and looking in the mirror can distract you even more. Threatening them accomplishes no purpose. They know:

  1. You don't mean it.
  2. You won't carry it out. Many parents say, "If you don't settle down, we won't get this or go there." But usually those are just idle threats. With a history of those kinds of threats and warnings, no child will pay attention to what you say.
  3. You can't reach them (other than the ridiculous flailing arm that only makes you angrier). So try this first: turn up the music on the rear speakers. Part of their fun is knowing you're overhearing the skirmish. They're waiting for you to step in and settle it. That's part of their unionized plan.

If turning up the music doesn't work and they continue to bicker, calmly pull over the car and stop. Get out of the car, stretch a little, check your tires, open your trunk. If you are going somewhere your children want to be, and they end up getting there late, all the better. Take your time outside the car.

When you get back in the car, say something like, "Is it safe for Mom to drive now?"

Try this once and it's usually enough to stop the bickering. If you've been a paper tiger parent up to this point, though, they may need another dose.

And guess what? Your heart rate hasn't gone up either. You've used the principle of "B doesn't happen until A is completed." Those children are not arriving at their destination until their bickering is dealt with.

Taken with permission from Have a New Kid By Friday! by Dr. Kevin Leman.

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