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Bickering Siblings

Submitted By: Nicole Young


-By Nicole M. Young, MSW


Parenting is hard work-and also incredibly rewarding. One of the greatest challenges any parent faces is balancing the role of parent with all the other priorities in life. Many parents feel they are dropping the ball in one or more areas of their lives at any given time...or is it just me?


Whether you're a parent, a grandparent or other caregiver of an infant, toddler, preschooler, elementary school child or teenager, this column has been created for you. It is my hope that this column provides an opportunity for you to share your parenting questions and get answers that help strengthen your relationships with your children.


This month we'll cover the complicated and dynamic world of sibling relationships. While this isn't the first time we've covered this issue, clearly it's an important one for many parents. I hope you'll find value in the following practical tips and ideas based on the world-renowned Triple P Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County.  If you have a question, please drop me a line at



Dear Nicole,


My 6- and 8-year old boys are having a really hard time getting along, and it's making me crazy. Just about every day they get into this frustrating cycle where all they do is argue. They usually do this when I am not in the room and then one of them comes running to me upset and blaming the other. They each know exactly what to say to push the other's buttons. What can I do to improve this situation and my sanity?


Katy, Bonny Doon


Dear Katy,


I'll bet that just about every parent of siblings has experienced some of what you are feeling. I've certainly been there. Luckily there are several strategies you can use to minimize this type of conflict...and help you keep your sanity!


Use engaging activities to teach cooperation and communication. 

-       Bickering often occurs when children get bored or don't know how to communicate their needs. To prevent boredom, create a list of activities with your children - things they enjoy doing together and separately - and encourage them to pick a new activity when they start to get restless. 

-       If you have time, participate in an activity with your children. This gives you a chance to spend quality time together. It also gives you a chance to teach skills for cooperating and communicating. Model through your own words and actions - "How should we decide who goes first?  That's a great idea, Tim.  We can roll the dice to see who goes first.  How does that sound to you, Brandon?"  Have your children practice throughout the activity by asking them, "Whose turn is it now?" or "What happens next?" 

-       Give descriptive praise. "That's right, Brandon, it's Tim's turn next. Thanks for waiting so patiently."


Create "ground rules" for playing together. This is helpful if you need to be in a separate room while your children are playing. Examples include: take turns, use kind words, keep our hands to ourselves, etc. Limit ground rules to just a few so they are easy to remember. State them in the positive (take turns), instead of the negative (don't grab).


Check in periodically. In the beginning, plan to check on them every few minutes. As your children become more skilled at cooperating, you can increase the amount of time between your check-ins. 


When you check on your children, acknowledge their efforts to follow the ground rules and get along. Describe the specific behaviors you like - "The two of you are doing a great job taking turns," or "I appreciate the way you're cooperating and making the game fun for both of you."


Give your children brief and frequent amounts of quality time throughout the day. Your children may feel they're getting the attention they crave when you help them resolve their bickering. To shift this pattern, give them your full attention when they want to tell you something, even if it's just for one minute. 


Bickering siblings can really test your parenting skills and patience. But it is possible to teach children cooperation and communication skills by trying a handful of these practical solutions. Remember, small changes can make a big difference!


Look for one of Triple P Santa Cruz County's two pocket guides-one provides general tips and the other is focused on teens. Both pocket guides are free and available at various locations throughout the county, including health clinics, pediatrician offices, schools and First 5 Santa Cruz County.


Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 10 and 13, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information, including classes and one-on-one meetings to help parents handle everyday parenting challenges, visit, or To find a Triple P class or practitioner, contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or


Chore Score

by Leslie Dinaberg

(BUILT IN) (Photos) LeslieD_2007.jpg

    I’m writing this column to start fights between husbands and wives, at least that’s what the husband of one of my friends claimed. An informal survey of friends verified what social science research confirmed about what goes on in the average American home. Any way you measure it, very little has changed in the roles of men and women—there’s no such thing as “halving it all,” women still do about twice as much around the house as men.

    Of course that ratio used to be four to one (and that was pre-microwave ovens), so we are making some progress. According to a recent article in the “New York Times,” no matter how you construct and deconstruct a family, “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

    Even in households like mine, with extremely low housekeeping standards, the ratio is about two to one. I do a little and my husband does very, very little. So little, in fact, that rather than take part in my informal survey and account for his chores like all the rest of our friends did, he had the bad sense to say, “I'm quite sure that I do everything while you eat bonbons.”

    OK, I admit that I may fortify myself with the occasional chocolate, but it’s just to make sure I have the energy to keep the refrigerator, pantry, gift closet and sock drawers filled with enough supplies to brave those Santa Barbara winters.

    Since research has found that the best predictor of the division of labor is how it breaks down amongst your friends, I decided to dig in for some details from mine.

    ’m not sure what it says about my voyeuristic tendencies, but I found it oddly interesting to hear about who did what around my friends’ houses. You would think they were sharing Penthouse letters, the way I ran to check my computer every time my email chimed in with a new message. I couldn’t wait to see who was weighing in with their chore score.

    In general, guys seemed to have a few areas of expertise, mostly car maintenance and yard work, while the house and the social life fell into the wife’s wheelhouse.

    As Janet put it, “in our house we have committees and chairpersons. Dave is the chairperson of the automotive maintenance committee, the waste disposal committee, the structural engineering (i.e. handyman) committee, etc. I am chair of the social engagement committee, the food procurement and preparation committee, and the health maintenance committee. Somehow the titles make us feel a little better about our chores.”

    Having titles isn’t a bad idea. Almost everyone I talked to admitted to bickering with their spouse about housework—or knowing they’d just get in a fight if they brought it up—which is why, in the interest of domestic harmony, all the names in this story were changed.

    Kids were the biggest area of shared responsibility. Although we seem to follow our parents in many regards, this generation of fathers is definitely not second-class parents to their wives. Sure, there are exceptions, like Amanda who said, “Pete needs a manual to operate the children. When given specific instructions, he is usually able to follow them. … He is allergic to the children's belongings and couldn't possibly put them away.”

    But most of the responses were more along the lines of: “Ernie supervises the kids homework (I gave up math in second grade), takes them to all of their sports activities, and makes sure their teeth don’t rot.” Or “Doug picks up the kids from school every day, and is almost always the one to stay home with them when they’re sick.”

    Cooking also didn’t fall under one gender or the other, although I’m convinced that our friends play a big part in the fact that Americans now spend $26 billion more each year on restaurants than grocery stores. As Kathy said, “Joe does about 25% of the cooking, I do about 25%, and someone else does the other 50%.”

    Author Neil Chetnik, who interviewed about 300 husbands for his book, "VoiceMale—What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment," found that almost every level of happiness and positive feelings in relationships is related to housework. “I kept seeing the parallel between housework and sex in the interviews. Men said the happier their wives were in the division of housework, the happier the men were with their sex lives. We even looked at the numbers and found that there's more sex in the relationship if the wife is happy with the division of housework.”

    Did you hear that, honey? Might be time to work on improving your chore score.  What’s the chore score at your house? Share your stats with


You must be SITTING DOWN (we say ""on your bottom"") when you eat a snack. This is my favorite one b/c clean-up is a snap. No trails of goldfish all over the house... (Funny aside: My two-year-old is so familiar with this rule that whenever she sees anyone eating something she wants, she immediately drops to her bottom on the floor!) –jenna

Everyone sits down together for dinner. It may not always be relaxed but it gives us quality time and everyone shares a high and low for their day. Even our 3 year old is excited to share her favorite activity of the day. --rachael

We have the three bite rule at the dinner table. You must take three bites of a food you say you don't like, before you can determine whether you like it or not. In most cases, my children decide they like what they are eating and aren't sure why they started with. ""I don't like that."" Now I see them sharing this with their friends....""You know you should try something three times before you say you don't like it."" I just smile. –shelli

3-5 Year olds: Can only turn on the TV if you get dressed, and brush your teeth and hair, all by yourself! 1/2 hour of computer time after you write your ABC's and/or practice your numbers. –meredith

I have tried to teach my children the value of money so therefore, my 'household rule' is that when I take my teenager's clothes shopping, if the item is on sale I will buy it for them, if its not on sale they must pay for half, using their allowance, baby sitting money etc. It has encouraged them to look for things on sale, a very good household habit! –carol

1. When asked to do a chore, if any complaining occurs, another chore is added. 2. A ""Help Wanted"" poster is mounted to the refrigerator and jobs are available for a payment. Sweep Stairs pays $2, Wash Car $9, etc. These are over and above the regular no payment chores that they do. It's a fun way to earn money! --lynn

Blaming some rules of the house literally on the house. ""The house doesn't like it when we draw on the walls."" ""The house doesn't like it when we yell so loud."" Blaming the house works better than always saying, ""Stop yelling."" etc. It works well outside the house too. --kathy

If my child’s request comes with a whiney voice the answer is automatically ""NO"" even if I would have said ""yes"" otherwise! Works well to prevent wining! --gaylene

No TV during the school week M-ThClean dishes put away before 5:00pm.Must choose a music, art or sports activity to be involved in. Sunday morning is always reserved for worship. Computer instant messaging/playing and loud music off by 9pm. No sleepovers two nights in a row. NEVER share hairbrushes. --corinne

Our most ""obeyed"" rule is that there are to be no shoes worn on the carpet. We have baskets to put our shoes in by the front door, back sliding door and the garage door into the family room. Each basket also has a small box of baby wipes to wipe off any dirty feet, and the basket in the garage also has a bottle of Spray and Wash to wipe off any tar from the beach. Each basket is als lined with coordinating fabric to match the room that it is located in! It has become such a habit, and a carpet saver, that even my two year old has the routine of removing shoes when entering down! –jennifer

Always take your shoes off when coming into the house, washing hands before eating, saying please and thank you, brushing teeth 2 times a day, and most importantly, flushing and putting the toilet seats down so I don't fall in when I go!! These few rules help keep our son healthier and feeling good about himself. --holly

Before my girls get in the tub they must use the potty to avoid ""accidents"" while bathing. --cheryl

10-Min Tornado Before Meals (that is to run around and pick up and put away things before getting to eat.) --krista

No video games in the morning, not even Saturday or Sunday morning.
Both boys need to pick up their toys as soon as they are done playing with them (this usually needs many reminders my boys are 5 and 7). – Mercedes

Clean up all the toys in the family room before we have movie night! Everyone cooperates and even the baby sings the ""clean-up"" song! --lisa

Before bringing out a new game or new toys, please put the ones your playing with away first. –rachel

Put bib in hamper after meals - We don't throw books - We don't hit. –nicole

If it's left out at the end of the night, it winds up in ""the box"". If you're missing something, and don't know where it is, check the box. But, once you check the box, EVERYTHING in it must be put back where it belongs. If anything is left in the box, they are donated to Goodwill. --leon

My 4 year old doesn't nap anymore, but she does have quiet time in her room every day. She used to make such a mess of her toys, until I made the rule that her room had to be clean before quiet time could be over. At first she complained when she had a lot to clean up, but she quickly learned to put one thing away before taking out another. Now her room is clean and we don't waste family time cleaning it up! --adrienne

If my son (3 years) takes a toy away from his sister (1 year), he has to give her something else to play with instead. –sheri

In our house, the toy box is brimming with toys. We even have toys stored away. He takes great care of his toys and they seem to last forever, soooo... We have a rule. Everytime that he gets a new toy, he needs to make room for it by choosing one of equal size to give away to needy families. It helps to keep things less cluttered. This way, he learns to value what he has and the joy of giving. --hortencia

You have to pick up whatever you were using before you begin something else. --mikah

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