Parenting 101

November/December 2010

Q: I have two pre-teen sons (10 & 12) who argue about everything and/or nothing at all. We’ve tried taking away privileges, giving rewards, and grounding them – all of this seems to work but only temporarily. Is this a phase or are they just never going to get along?

One of the most common complaints from parents who have more than one child is the constant arguing and conflicts that seem to upset the house constantly. Conflict between siblings is ‘normal’ and does more to upset parents and the peace of the house than anything else. It is most effective to handle each conflict situation separately. One of the more effective ways to handle this situation is to determine each conflict situation separately. Distinguish whether the current conflict is one they can settle among themselves or if they need a parent intervention. As parents we often step in too soon which interrupts their learning to solve conflicts on their own. Begin by using an adult intervention. This means taking 15 minutes to stop what you are doing. Sit both children down (they must be of speaking age) on chairs facing themselves. You position yourself between them and act only as a moderator. Below is the format to use to ‘talk’ out the conflict allowing them to process the words needed to say how they feel. Below is the format to use:


    A. Two people in conflict sit face to face
    B. One person talks at a time – when that person finishes, the other person repeats what they heard before they get their turn.
    C. Explain that the person listening may not speak, even if they hear something they don’t agree with.
    D. Mediate until conflict is negotiated

Questions: Take one question at a time – each person has their turn before moving to the next question.

    1. What did the other person do that upset you?
    2. Explain what you felt during the conflict? (I statements)
    3. What would you expect of the other person in the future? (negotiate)

Children will greatly benefit from this method, but will not like how much time it takes from their activities. This means they will want to avoid future conflict resolutions if possible. This is where the parent gains power. The next time your children argue, ask if they need a conflict resolution. If they say no, then let them work it out. But don’t forget to set the house rules – ‘inside voices’ and ‘no hitting’ or they automatically go to a conflict resolution.

Q: My 19yo son is causing real problems between my husband and me. He’s got a part-time job making minimum wage – he’s not going to school, he spends too much time playing video games and he does some drinking from time to time. My husband wants to give him a time frame to either get a real job or get back in school, or find another place to live. I feel like that’s setting him up to fail – the economy is in bad shape and I worry about his welfare if he’s not living at home. What should I do?

A: Your son is clearly taking advantage of the kindness of his parents. The most important life lesson you can give to your child (especially one over 18yrs old) is that there are no free rides. The current situation enables your son to avoid growing up. If the situation does not change, he may never. This is the most tragic thing we do to our children. Yes, these are tough times, but there are plenty of temporary jobs out there that, while they may not be the most desirable, pay money. And usually, the longer one works at these jobs the more motivated they become to either look for a better job or go back to school. School would help prepare him for better job opportunities at any time. Tell him if he chooses not to go to school, then he will be expected to pay rent. (You can work out a sliding scale for rent that increases slowly). Or, he can live on his own. This is the most loving thing you can do for your child.
You might also ask yourself why you are providing housing for someone engaging in illegal behavior. 19 is not the legal drinking age. A good therapist can help you and your husband work together to set appropriate boundaries and provide the right resources for your son to grow and mature. Yes, you will worry about his welfare if he is out of the house. If your choice comes down to taking care of your anxiety or helping him grow and have a happy, healthy and productive life, what will your choice be? It may sound easy, but it’s not…a good family therapist can be of tremendous help.

The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources, more parenting information, or more about the South Bay Coalition, visit our website: