Coffee and Convo – Do Your Kids Ever Fight?

Does anybody remember the Coffee Talk sketch from SNL? Mike Meyers was “Linda Richmond” with long fingernails and a Jersey accent. “Call me, we’ll talk. No big whoop.”

My best friend Cathy and I would spend hours trying to perfect that accent when we were in junior high. I don’t think I was allowed to actually stay up late enough to watch the show, but she could and she’d repeat it all for me verbatim on Monday morning and we’d laugh ourselves silly.

There’s still VHS proof of our own attempt at a Coffee Talk sketch, big hair and all. But I have the only copy and I plan to keep it under wraps.

You’re welcome.

So today I asked the Facebook Page folks what they’d want to talk about if we could sit down and have coffee. And it really made me want to take you all out for a latte. And maybe flash some long nails and a Jersey accent…


I got a couple of folks who wondered how we cope with siblings fussing. If we were all sitting around the table nursing our mochas, I’d tell you what we do and then I’d want to hear what you do.

So let’s pretend we’re at a table. I’ll go first and then you guys fire back at me, ok? It’s a conversation, not a monologue. (I hope.)


A very wise person fed me the line that we use regarding all sibling relationships: Your relationship with your brother or sister is more important.

It’s more important than the toy, it’s more important than the iPad, it’s more important than your own agenda.

The Relationship is The Thing.

So I handle kids fussing at each other the same way at any age. If Willa and Mira are screaming about a toy, the toy is mine. I don’t really care who had it first nor do I have time to sort it out. If they have been reduced to fussing over it, it’s pretty safe to assume they’re both at fault somehow. I take it away and say, “Your relationship is more important. Now hug it out and find something to do together.”

The toy remains mine until they’ve forgotten it and moved on. It can return to rotation when they don’t care about it any more.

If Ellen and Sam are arguing about who goes first on the iPad, I’m lucky enough to have enough kids so I can say, “Ian and Adam will go before you do.”

Relationship trumps their “rights.” Every time.

As far as taking turns on the iPad, I usually give them each 15 minutes. They are allowed to watch their siblings play (that’s my current policy, anyway, I may change that) and they are required to keep up with the time. If they are dishonest, they lose their privileges. If I hear one word of fussing about it, the fussers lose their iPad privileges for the day, whether they’ve had their full turn or not.

This policy is just as much for my own sanity as for theirs. I am not Solomon nor do I get paid a king’s ransom to sort out every petty argument in perfect fairness. It will slap wear a mama out.

It IS in the best interest of everyone if I do not run myself ragged playing judge and jury all day long. So we have an across-the-board zero-tolerance policy for unkindness of any sort.

If a particular pair of siblings is really struggling to be nice, than I find some sort of chore for them to do together. Or, if one of the big kids is being unkind to one of the Littles, we’ve been known to put the Big child in charge of playing with that Little for the rest of the day.

They quickly learn some patience when they have to follow the whims of a four year old for an afternoon.

I think the key is to not beat yourself up about “fairness.” The goal isn’t to teach our kids how to be fair. The goal is to teach our kids how to love others well.

And the first place they learn Love for Others is in the family.

Alright. I’m gonna stop and take a metaphorical swig of my mocha. How do YOU handle sibling rivalry? How do you dole out iPad time and keep straight whose turn it is?

Or are your children of the mythical variety who would never take a swing at their sister over possession of a toothbrush?

Comment. We’ll talk. No big whoop…




  1. Thanks for this, LoraLynn. Such simple wisdom. But I waste so much time trying to BE Solomon with my own gaggle of kiddos, the simplicity often passes right over my head. 🙂

  2. First, I love this and plan on sharing it! Not because it’s rocket science (not to downplay the wonderfulness of it, but it’s simple when you can step outside of the immediate she-stole-this-so-I-pulled-her-hair kind of situation) but because you worded it so well!
    And second, we have the same rules, with different phrases. Our house rule is: if you fuss or argue over it, you will not get what you want (even if what you wanted was reasonable) because of the WAY that you handled the situation or because of HOW you said it . Having a good attitude and treating each other kindly is foremost – most all else is secondary. Now for another coffee…

  3. This is good. Like, really, REALLY good.

    My question back to you would be: Do you get involved when two siblings who aren’t getting along continue to fight when you “punish them” with togetherness?

  4. Love it. 🙂 I always feel happy to see your posts!

    We do pretty much as you do. We call it “keeping/breaking fellowship” ala FeminaGirls. I have a “Bless Others” jar that they have to chose a paper from from if they wrong/fuss at/hurt another (even if they just knock over their tower!). It doesn’t have a lot of choices, but the current papers read “Ask mom if you can give them a treat” “Make them a craft or picture,” “set them up with a toy THEY WANT to play with” “Sing them an ‘I love you’ song.”

    These consequences aren’t huge but they are very effective at helping me nip bad behavior in the bud.

    Our “I love you song” goes like this:
    I love you, _______
    Oh yes I do.
    I love you, ____
    and I’ll be true.
    When you’re not near me, I’m bluuuuuuuuue,
    Oh, ____, I love you.

    They are usually giggling by the end.

  5. Sami – That song is fantastic! I’m SO stealing that!

  6. We always used the illustration of Isaac building another well (Genesis 26) and bringing peace to those around us. When Mom heard a fight brewing, she’d tell us to “build another well” (move on and find something else to do). 🙂 I’d love to hear more about how putting a big kid in charge of a little one works.

  7. Kelly – The short answer is: Yes. The longer answer is: if a chore of togetherness doesn’t solve the issue (most of the time, kids will suck up the petty stuff just to get us off their backs, yes?) then it’s time to dig deeper. A conversation with each child to get to the heart issue: are you jealous, is there something else going on that you’re angry about, etc.? Once we’ve named the heart issue and shown them some wisdom on it, then they can be given an opportunity to make the relationship right by serving each other (cleaning each other’s room, doing the other person’s chore, etc.) When the “quick fix” doesn’t do the trick then there really is a deeper issue that’s worth digging a little for, even if it requires more effort on my part. But generally, these instances are fewer. Generally. 🙂

  8. Such a great post! I have three boys (8 months, 2.5 and 4.5) and sometimes the fighting between the two older ones makes me want to scream and throw something myself. I generally try to follow the “if you’re fighting over it, it’s mine” rule, but I have struggled with it at times because my oldest would honestly prefer that no one get to play with something than that his younger brother get to touch it. (Insert eye roll)

    It ends up feeling unfair to me, mostly because then the middle child is crying and the oldest one is happy that his brother isn’t getting to play with whatever the object was. Have you dealt with that at all? I tried timer turns for a while, but that usually ends in them just taking turns crying while the other one plays, and I don’t think it really teaches them anything about relationships.

  9. I really like this and plan to “steal” it! 🙂 We also make our kids say or do something(s) nice for the other. If one kids says something unkind about the other they IMMEDIATELY have to say three specific NICE things about their sibling. Or if they do something unkind they have to do three nice things to serve them that day. My kids are pretty little 6, 4, and 1 so this works pretty well.

  10. oooh, I thought of a question too! My 15 month old often tries to take my 4 year olds toys and I have taught him to come get me to help him…but what would you do? Would you let your 1 year old take the 4 year olds toys so that the 4 year old learns servanthood? Or do you intervene because the 1 year old can’t just take what she wants??? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  11. I have just read this post to my children to prove that I’m not the only “mean” mother in the world. In our house, the phrase is “People matter more.” More than the toy. More than “fair”. More than anything else. Because people are Jesus with skin on, and the only thing that we can take with us to heaven.

  12. Heidi – Yes, I’ve seen the “gleeful” look on one child’s face when the toy gets taken away. Hate it. Two thoughts: 1 – these are all just initial suggestions. If you don’t feel they’re working, then I think it’s good to dig a little deeper and get to the true heart issue at stake here. In this case, I’d begin to focus on compassion (she says as she stops the 8 year old from pinning the 7 year old to the stove). Talk about what compassion is, what it looks like, and then practice it with some acts of service toward the other child. 2- Make them do some chores together that you know the older child hates. Or make him serve the younger child by picking up his toys, etc. It may take some time for it to sink in, but it will eventually!

  13. Oh so good, friend.

  14. Oh my word, I am using this you wise woman, you! I cannot even tell you the sense of freedom I feel just reading it. I struggle with this all.the.time. I always end up feeling guilty and trying to make everything “fair” for everyone and I’ve missed the point! Thank you, friend!

  15. Debi – There are a few toys that I will defend for my olders, mostly out of safety for the younger (i.e. Legos).

    HOWEVER, my wise mentor once told me that even if there’s a large gap, the relationship is still important. For this reason, when my boys are building train tracks, I do not “save them” from a Baby Godzilla. Instead, I ask them to learn how to play with this baby brother. They actually get pretty smart at it, learning to give him a different toy to distract him and then quickly building behind his back. Or holding him in their lap while they build. It goes back to the original point: The Relationship Is The Thing.

    Imagine your son in an office setting some day losing his mind if someone plays with his stapler. We’re trying to avoid that situation and life with siblings is where it starts! If I constantly defended their rights to certain toys, it would only breed selfishness. So I try to only intervene in issues of safety.

    It’s a great question for me to ponder, especially now that I have such a huge gap between my twins and my baby. Praise God that He wires our kids to live in the families they are given!

  16. I love this! Since mine our just two and almost one we are just now creeping up on these issues. Most of the time I just tell the Big if you can’t share it you can’t have it. Occasionally the little will take something and I just ask her Big to get a similar toy or book for her little sister before she takes it back.

    I have deep fears about sibling relationships so I love the perspective of putting the relationship first. Thanks for something to chew on as we head into more sibling issues!

  17. I am learning so much from the post & comments! When Casey (13 months older) and I fought growing up, my mom made us wash windows- one on the inside of the house & one on the outside. We had to wash the same window at the same time (thus staring at each other). Mom had cleaned windows and we quickly learned that we could sort out problems between the two of us!

  18. My kids are way past the age of fighting, but I will tell you that I regret the way I treated one of my brothers growing up. So much so that I have apologized many times. We are not close now, though there is love and we get along fine, but I often wonder if it’s because of how mean to him I was. I agree- sibling relationships are so important!!

  19. I love this! It’s very in keeping with the “love and logic” style of parenting I’ve been studying lately. I agree with every bit of it, but man, do I ever fall into the trap of trying to make it fair for everyone, every time. I need to look at the bigger picture.

  20. Jennievieve says:

    Yea! You picked my question from FB! I along with other commenters I worry a lot about making things fair. I love the simplicity in this. Great tips. Very well said. Thanks.

  21. I really like this and really want to try it. We have 8,6 and 2 year old boys and the older two are great at playing together, but often want to exclude the 2 year old. Admittedly, the 2 year old is difficult: biting, hitting, etc. and we are working on those behaviors. Just curious what you would do with that to encourage his relationship with older brothers but still protect them from him besides just watching carefully to help him not react with such violence. I love the idea of talking through relationships rather than fairness. Great ideas in your post and the comments here. Thanks!

  22. Ok, but here’s another thing. How do you teach your children that when something belongs to a particular person, that person has first “dibs”? I mean, in real life, your neighbor doesn’t come over and take your lawnmower without asking while you stand there thinking “Well, that’s ok, really, because our relationship matters more.” Right? I mean, at some point there is the concept of personal property…isn’t there? We have very few toys in our house that don’t have a specific owner, and if there is a disagreement over the toy, the owner always, always gets it. Because in real life, you don’t get to just help yourself to other people’s stuff, and there is no communal property, usually. That doesn’t mean that I don’t focus on the relationships, and on treating siblings with kindness, but I do think this idea of “we don’t just help ourselves to other people’s stuff” is important. Am I missing the mark with this?

  23. Great post! My two are 23 months apart and thankfully almost always get along. There are times when one of them is playing with something and wants to do so alone. Because those times are infrequent I tend to support the one wanting alone time. How would you handle one child wanting to play alone for a bit?

  24. Elizabeth – Such a great question. We had a really interesting conversation over dinner with the kids about it. Here’s what we said:

    Kids really don’t have to be taught the idea of personal property. They seem to come with the idea of “MINE” ingrained in them. It’s inherent. What isn’t as inherent is compassion and sharing with others.

    So it’s our job as parents to help them learn the stuff that doesn’t come naturally to them, which is why we focus more on sharing and loving others over their right to personal property.

    Absolutely, there are toys that mostly belong to just one child and we help them protect their things from damage by younger siblings. For example, Ian has a Kindle. If he’s not reading it, his siblings play with it or read it, even the Littles. But if I see one of the other kids treating it poorly, I will definitely take it away and not let them destroy it. If Ian decides he wants to read something, he is within his rights to ask for the Kindle back.

    And there is where your wisdom as a parent has to step in. Because if you think the child is asking for it back only because he doesn’t want anyone else to have it, then I will default to dealing with the heart issue over allowing him to have his personal property. I may not let the other child keep it, but we will definitely have a discussion about WHY he chose that particular moment to ask for his Kindle. And then based on his reaction and our discussion, I might need to hang on to the Kindle for him until he adjusts his attitude.

    Do you see the distinction? If he just wants to read and someone else has it, yep, he can ask for it back and I’ll support him in that. But if he sees Sam reading it, scowls, and then asks for it, then I’m at least going to question his motives. I might be wrong, but I’m going to question him and check his heart.

    Also, we’re working on making sure that the kids ask one another before they use something that is known to belong to one child or the other. Because you’re right, kindness involves respecting others.

    I think because our kids are pretty close in age and have usually played with similar toys, we’ve been able to cultivate the idea that very little is “mine” and the toys are “ours.” This is changing some as the kids get bigger, of course, and I do think it would be more difficult if you had a wide spread of ages. But I still think respect for others should win the majority of the time.

  25. Sara K – Yea, I think your main focus should be the two year old and gentleness. Stay consistent with that and then you can tackle the rest of it. Stay strong, Mama! The 2’s and 3’s are kicking my tail over here, too!

  26. Great post!! Thanks for sharing.

    Because of the huge, vast, gigantic age difference between our kids (relatively speaking,) this hasn’t come up too much — YET. But it will be, soon I have a feeling: so it’s good to read other people’s great ideas!

  27. Kay – I 100% support the playing alone. (Introverts UNITE!) If it goes on for too long, we’ll check with the kid, just because it usually means there’s something deeper going on, a heart issue that needs to be addressed (they might be sad or they might not want to share). But I totally respect the need for some time alone. In THIS house?? Who wouldn’t need it? 🙂

  28. when they are being unkind, selfish, fighting over “their” rights, “their” turn, “their” property, etc i will often make them sit and hold hands for a certain amount of time, make them say 3 nice things about eachother, make them do a project together. this whole sibling rivalry thing i have very little personal experience with as i was one of two children with my sister being nearly 9 years younger than me. it’s very tricky, that’s for sure. but i do often remind them that they need to preserve and value their relationships with eachother because when they are grown, friendship with one another will be a beautiful thing that will make all of their lives richer.

  29. Loving catching up on these comments…I grew up (until 12, anyway) as an only child, so sometimes sibling relationships just leave me completely baffled. How can they be best friends one moment and need me to physically intervene the next?! But it’s good to read that other people are repeating – over, and over, and over! – similar reminders and it’s not just my kids.

    I do struggle with taking a communal toy away that is being fussed about, because frequently at our house the child who has it is innocent, and the fusser just is being selfish. So usually I just insist that the fusser wait until the other person is done, and try to help them work through their jealousy and play happily with something else. So tough to navigate!

  30. Thank you so much for this post! I have 4 with one on the way! this past couple of months I have seen the fighting and meaness ramp up to horrible levels. And yes I am trying to play the role of Solomon and yes it does wear a mama out! Ain’t nobody got time for this craziness! I have been praying and stressing over my kiddos lately and pondering where the fighting and lack of relationship is coming from. But these rules are really good, the relationship comes first is fantastic instead of me trying to figure out what is fair and right and in the end losing my sanity trying to keep all happy! I strongly desire a peaceful household and this is such a beautiful way to handle this situation. Mine are 12 almost 13, 11, 9 and 7. And then a new one in June 2015! I just don’t want to be dealing with such the level of fighting when the new one gets here. Otherwise I am afraid my children will just have to live outside 🙂


  1. […] that coffee and convo was so much fun. It was “almost” like we were really chatting. And I was doing it all […]

  2. […] discussed loving one another, your brother/sister is your best friend, etc. Then I paired them up and told them they would not do anything else until they’d done […]

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