Six Ways to Beat Bickering

A friend asked recently:

Ok ladies, it’s time for me to do some major/drastic behavior boot camp in this house. I am committing to staying home for several days, going nowhere and do nothing but set straight some major behavior issues we have here. I need some advice, though…How do I handle/tackle my 4 and 6 year old who fight CONSTANTLY all day, everyday? The tease each other non stop. They fight, yell, scream, hit, bite one another. They cannot seem to get along. 

Here was my response:



Here are a few thoughts from an older mom who has felt just the same way so many times over the years… and still does!

First, children need to be held to account. They need firmness and discipline and consistent standards. We’ve got to tell them what to do, give them little chunks they can manage and hold them accountable when they don’t. Be *sure* to differentiate between rebellion (which must be dealt with swiftly and firmly) and irresponsibility and childishness, which needs more natural consequences. For example, a whiny child may not be allowed to speak for a minute, then the second time he whines he can’t speak for two minutes, etc. That addresses the issue right at the heart – if you want attention, get it the right way or you can’t get it. On the other hand, a child who bites his brother has got to be punished.

Also, though, children desperately need you to delight in them; to light up when they come in the room, to hear that you love them, to hear that you like them and are grateful God put them in your family. This is the number one difference I see between Christians with rebellious teens and those with happy teens. The ones with happy teens do a great job of loving *unconditionally.* It’s super hard when they are acting like brats, but it’s even more important then.


You’ve got to praise progress, too. If they make any movement in the right, virtuous direction, praise it. They will work hard to earn your praise, but we tend to reserve it too long, praising only for perfection. Hint: We never reach that. 

For bickering, some things that are particularly helpful are:

1 When they are speaking in an ugly way to each other, make them repeat what they’ve said until it’s the right words said with the right tone of voice with the right facial expression. If you can do this in a cheerful, smiling, but persistent way, all the better. Just say, “Let’s try that again,” until they get it right. Usually they break down laughing before long!

2 Use role play to show them how to handle conflict. The Young Peacemaker is wonderful for teaching this. Sometimes they really, seriously don’t know what to do. Make sure they do know. 🙂


3 Make them partners. Give them a task to do together. This is especially good if you can find something they really want to do, something that is a treat. That way they will want to work together to do it more than they want to fight.

4 Don’t allow name-calling. I always heard “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” when I was growing up. It is a lie. Words hurt much worse for much longer than physical pain. Don’t let your children hurt each other this way.

5 In severe cases, making them stick together (using a ribbon or string between their belt loops, for example) for a time can make them madder at you then each other.  🙂 Seriously, eventually the humor of it gets to the most incorrigible bickerer.

6 Finally, those who provoke their brothers until a fight starts need to be punished as seriously as those who fight. We shouldn’t be leading one another into sin. Remember, causing trouble among brothers is something the Lord hates.

I hope that helps a little, my friend. Some children seem to bicker more at certain stages of life, though with others it’s a personality thing. We have a couple of children that have struggled with bickering between the two of them their whole lives. Amazingly, now as adults, even though they *still* get torqued off at each other, they frequently make real sacrifices to help one another because they love each other so very much. They just have a personality conflict. Kids like that need help understanding it’s okay for their sibling to see and do things differently than they do, really.

Just be sure to spend enough energy on delighting in them, I’ve noticed among those two that the more uncertain or insecure they feel, the more they lay into each other. {{{hugs}}}


to practical help for banishing sibling rivalry

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Or, if your bickerers are in that challenging age from 9-13, get some solid advice and good laughs from our newest book, No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Hope and Grace!

How do you deal with bickering at your house?

Melanie Winter Pic (c)2010 John Calvin YoungMuch love,


Lion Cub Photo Courtesy of Kimberlee Kessler Design