Didn’t I Tell You What I Don’t Want?

Imagine this: you’re sitting in a restaurant and when the waitress asks for your friend’s order, your friend goes through the whole menu of what she DOESN’T want…

“I don’t want the burrito and I don’t want the tacos and I don’t want the chimichanga.” How likely is she to end up getting what she was hoping to have for dinner? Not very.

But don’t we do that to our kids on a regular basis when they are squabbling?

Do you ever get frustrated, dare I say, even yell at your kids, over sibling bickering? It’s no fun to admit, but many of us get annoyed at their bickering and say (or yell), “Stop arguing!” Or, “Don’t do that to your brother!” I wish it was effective parenting, because it sure does flow out of my mouth easily and frequently.

Perhaps…. instead of telling our kids what we DON’T want, maybe we can be more effective by telling them what we DO want…

with something more along the lines of, “I’d like you to keep your hands to yourself and use kind words.” It’s like saying to the waitress, “I’d like the enchiladas, please.”

On long summer days with all the kids around more than usual, some parents have found it helpful to be proactive instead of reactive with sibling bickering. They set a timer and tell the kids that if they can play together nicely until the timer rings, they get a _______ (fill in the blank here…. a check mark on a chart, a star, a quarter in the jar). After several rounds of success, the parents will then offer a fun activity as a treat for playing well together …. a trip for ice cream, game night, a special treat.

What’s cool about this strategy is that parents are creating more of what they do want (kids getting along with each other) instead of punishing kids for doing what the parents don’t want (fighting).


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Kerry Stutzman MSW, LMFT

My passion is helping my clients develop close, connected families and healthy relationships. For the past 20 years I have been helping people discover the best version of themselves.  Learn more

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