Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do Not Disturb the Family Peace

As I sat down at my computer to write a blog post for this site, I heard a ruckus upstairs. Sounds of screaming that didn’t sound quite so happy. With four children between the ages of 3 and 9, one gets used to a certain amount of loudness, but my mother’s radar detected something different in these sounds.

I followed the source to my girls’ room, where the 9-year-old was attempting to drag the 7-year-old out of the room because she “wanted her room to herself.” Never mind that the room was both of theirs, she wanted to be alone. I separated the pair for a cooling off period, thinking that a 9-year-old was a little too young to pull a Greta Garbo.

Sibling conflict can be overwhelming, especially when you have a mix of ages and genders. Most of the time, my children do play well together with a minimum of fuss. But it’s inevitable that conflict will raise its ugly head at times.

The way you as a parent handle sibling clashes can help—or hinder—how your children interact with each other. Here’s how we handle sibling clashes.

We decided that we would not play referee. It was not our job to intervene when the wailing started out of sight. We would not judge who was right and who was wrong. No assigning roles of victim or villain for us. If we happened to actually see the wrongdoing, that was another thing. But we would not participate after the fact in their disagreements. We would give kisses, but would not encourage tattling.

To enforce this, we created a chart and stuck it to the refrigerator. Titled “Do Not Disturb the Family Peace,” the chart outlined what would earn every child a ticket:

  1. Keep it down. (Do not become too boisterous or noisy.)
  2. No hurting each other. (Do not hit, punch, push or otherwise maim your siblings.)
  3. No tattling. (Do not become a snitch on your siblings.)

Clipped to the fridge beside this chart are three tickets, pieces of laminated paper. For each infraction, the entire group loses one ticket. If all three tickets are lost, the entire group goes directly to their rooms for the rest of the day and directly to bed after supper.

This eliminates the problem of trying to figure out what happened. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault, does it? What this system is doing is putting the resolution of conflict onto the children, where it belongs.

When I heard my two girls going at it, I simply walked in, said they were disturbing the family peace and directed one to get a ticket. No arguing, no drama. Then I walked out.

So far, in the two months we’ve had this system in place, they have yet to lose all three tickets. And if they do, I’ll enjoy a nice day without kids underfoot, and a more relaxing evening with my husband.

Now, would it be terrible of me to wish they would lose all three tickets one day….?

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.


  1. I had a set of triplets over a few weekends ago and was wondering what I was going to do when the baby gets older. (They skirmish enough as it is, but he's too young to give him any rules, really) but I've always been against choosing sides on kids fights. When kids at church come tattling on each other - I listen to both and then say, "Well, I don't know which side is right since I didn't see. But you do. Now go play" I usually get pretty stunned looks, but they generally got it all "aired out" and then go back to playing just fine.

    I like your ticket system, a definite number of times that can happen before they're in trouble.

    And um, sometimes I feel bad about enjoying the days when my kid is in her room all day, but I enjoy it anyway. :)

    1. That's a really good idea for how to handle things when you're children aren't the only ones involved. I remember my mom saying "I'm not a referee. Figure it out on your own."

  2. Hm. The question I'd have is, does it leave room for one kid to become a bully behind your back? I totally get not being able to police everything, when you're not there to see who was in the right, but I'm not sure about treating all kids to the same punishment when they're individuals - reminds me of school, when they'd make us all stay late 'cause one kid acted up!

    1. I would wonder about that as well, Jessica. But at the same time, I think you would know or have some hints if it got to the point that one child truly was bullying the others. I mean, you hear some of the complaints and fights even if you're trying to ignore them. And if you walked upstairs and one child looked obviously guilty while the other was shedding tears, well, you might have some clue that there's more to the situation.

    2. Absolutely - the blogger just seemed to be so black-and-white about it! That was the worrying thing. As general policy, I can see it working, as long as you kept a weather-eye open for trouble. :)

  3. Wow! That's a really interesting idea, Sarah. I may end up using something similar to that in a couple years, when my kids are old enough to understand it. Right now when a fight erupts, I'll break it up when I have time, listen to my eldest's complaint (my youngest is still to young to talk) and then ask him what he thinks a good solution to the problem might be. That still puts the problem solving skills in his control, but without causing a free for all.

  4. To comment on Jessica's concern about one kid becoming a bully: I think punishing all of them does reduce the likelihood of that happening. The "bully" and the "bullied" would both lose privileges. It wouldn't pay to become a bully nor would it pay to become a permanent "victim"--wouldn't gain the child anything but punishment on either end. As for one child shedding tears and the other looking guilty, that doesn't always translate into one being the perpetrator and the other being the victim. I have criers who cry for reasons not connected with a sibling hitting or hurting them in any way.

    What I like about the ticket system is that it doesn't assign blame to anyone. I don't have to figure out who is telling the truth and what happened--and we all know how children will lie to avoid getting into trouble. The children learn to get along with each other, to not cause one to get upset enough to disturb the family peace.

    And it might not be "fair" if all get punished because of one child's actions, that teaches the children that life isn't about fairness, but that, perhaps, is another blog:).