How to Stop Unwanted Behavior and Sibling Fighting

 minute read

Have you ever experienced peace and calm when even only one of your children is out of the house? I’m not sure why this is but so many parents I know can relate. Even though we have three boys it only takes one of them to be gone for our house to feel more peaceful. Not to mention, quieter as well! However, as soon as all three are back together, chaos ensues. Or as soon as you start talking to another adult, your child screams your name like his or her head is literally on fire and does not stop until he or she has your undivided attention. I recently just witnessed this at a playground and moments later my child started to do the same!

Experiences shape brain structures and make connections as the child learns and grows. I constantly remind myself of this when I catch myself wanting to yell or speak in frustration to any of my boys. Because when I do this, I know I’m creating brain structures that respond in a negative way and it’s usually not how I prefer my child to act. Therefore, when I'm having an interaction with my kids regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, I try to become aware of the moment and actually visualize their neural pathways firing and connecting. What I see is like an old-school Atari game all created in my own mind…complete with sound effects.

The connections being created by a child’s environment are why the way we interact and care for our children is extremely important. Even if you are working with a child that is not your own, you still have an impact on their development. All humans are born with a primary emotional need for significance and belonging. We all have a desire to feel seen, safe, heard, and understood. Attachment theory explains that there's an emotional connection between a parent and child that aids in that child's development into adulthood. And research tells us that it can be any caretaker or loving adult that a child can attach to, especially if a parent is physically and/or emotionally unavailable. 

John Bowlby is one of the earliest attachment theorists. Very Well Mind states,

“Attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. He suggested that attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival...While the behavioral theories of attachment suggested that attachment was a learned process, Bowlby and others proposed that children are born with an innate drive to form attachments with caregivers.”

Simply put, our children desire connection and are wired to want to be connected to you, a parent or loving caring adult who has an important role in their lives. When kids have to share the attention, rivalry or resentment can sometimes form without awareness. Or if you are giving your attention to someone or something else while the child’s attention bucket is empty, he or she demands it any way they know how to get it. Spending uninterrupted one-on-one quality time reduces tension and unwanted behaviors. Period.

The Benefits of Spending One-On-One Time With Kids

With the busyness of life, you may not take the time that’s imperative in fostering a deep connection. It is proven that spending quality time with each of your children has many benefits. I also think this can be applied to students you teach or coach. When quality time can be carved out, children: 

  • gain confidence.
  • feel secure.
  • gain a strong sense of belonging and significance.
  • openly communicate.
  • become calmer and not feel the need to misbehave to get negative attention. WIN!!!!
  • change their negative behaviors and make better choices.
  • fight less with siblings. Sign me up for this one!
  • become more cooperative.
  • build a strong bond and really connect with you, and this time helps you see your kids in a different light, have more empathy, and enjoy who they are, not who you want them to be.

When a child gets uninterrupted one-on-one quality time with his or her caregiver, this cultivates a sense of feeling special and that attention bucket gets filled to the top! The result leads to misbehavior, poor choices, and sibling fighting reduced tremendously. There is no need to act out to get your negative attention because the child is getting enough positive attention. Or what we talk a lot about at Prenda is the adult is able to ignite greatness in that said child. 

How to Incorporate More Quality Time With Your Kids

Quality time is very important and honestly makes life easier. You may be thinking, "How in the world can I squeeze in even more things when I don't have enough time as it is?" In reality, spending quality time with each of your children SAVES you time because you will spend less time on frustrating power-seeking behaviors. Also, your kids will become more cooperative the FIRST time you ask. 

Sounds too good to be true, right? 

The key is clarification and consistency

Name Your Special Time

Before coming up with a schedule or time to squeeze in quality time, name it. This would make for a great Family Meeting Agenda topic so your kids can be involved. Here are name ideas:

  • FOCUS Together Time - This is what my kids came up with. It stands for: Focus On Creating Uninterrupted Scheduled Time Together.
  • Special Time - This seems to be the most common name as it appears on many parenting websites.
  • Mind Body Soul Time - found on Positive Parenting Solutions.
  • Hang Time
  • We Go Together Time
  • One-on-One Time
  • {The child's name} Time - found on Aha Parenting.
  • QT - Because this is what it is right?!
  • Oodly Noodly Silly Time, Ninja Alliance, Prickly Pear Pow Wow - These came from my brain. Ha! But seriously, come up with something fun that makes you or your child giggle. It doesn’t even need to make sense. For example, our kids call our family meetings, Kevin Bacon time. I have no clue why but we laugh every single time and we have been doing these meetings for years. 

Carve Out the Time

Dr. Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline breaks down how much time kids need at each stage.

  • Toddlers - Littles under the age of two or three already require a lot of your time and won't comprehend or benefit from this dedicated time with you or your spouse yet so they get a free pass. 
  • Ages 3-6: Spend about 10 minutes every day to build a deep connection. 
  • Ages 6-12: Spend at least 30 minutes every week with older kids. 
  • Teens: This age group may not seem interested in spending one-on-one time with you, but trying to plan one activity once a week or even once a month can help keep communication open and your relationship strong.

Once you know roughly how much time your kids need, try to schedule it either daily or weekly. This is where we struggle especially during times when our daily schedule is inconsistent. What has helped me is that I put it on my calendar as I do with any other appointment or meeting. That way my brain tells me it’s something I can’t miss. It also helps that my kids never seem to forget!

Establish Rules and Guidelines

It is very important that you establish what this time is and isn't with your child because expectations prevent disappointments. Discuss rules and guidelines with your child to get his or her input on what this time will look like. In "Me, Me, Me Epidemic" by Amy McCready, she lists the following basic guidelines after teaching parents this concept of quality one-on-one time which she calls, Mind-Body-Soul Time or MBST.

  • No screens allowed. Screens include TV shows, YouTube videos, phones, and any type of media on a computer, tablet, or even a kindle. It works best if all of these devices are put away and out of sight during your quality time.
  • Creativity welcome! You can do one-on-one time essentially anywhere such as when you're in the car, on a walk or run, or when your kids first wake up.
  • Make sure the activity can be completed or reach a good stopping point within the time frame you set. When the time is up, it's up. If you extend it, a feeling of entitlement can start setting in.
  • Take less than a minute to pick an activity. If your child has a hard time deciding what to do then create or use this list. 
  • Label the time together so your child realizes the time is special. McCready mentions reminding your child that his or her attention and power bucket is full. You can say something like, "I enjoyed our FOCUS time together. I can't wait to do it again tomorrow."
  • Set a timer. If your child has a tough time with the transition, have something already planned for him or her afterward like going outside or eating a snack. Food is always a good idea, right?!
Quality time guidelines to use with kids

Ways to Make Quality Time More Special

Your child will already feel special by getting your sole attention, but there are ways to make a lifelong impact. Below are tips to take this time you spend with your child more memorable. They are adapted from the "Joy Fixes for Weary Parents" by Erin Leyba.

Have Your Child Do Something

When you are spending quality time together, give your child responsibility. You can also turn normal daily routines and errands into quality one-on-one time by making your child feel useful. Kids will also want to cooperate because it makes them feel important when you put them in charge of a task. For example, let your child use one of the huge vacuums at the car wash to help clean the car. My kids love cleaning the car and then ending the time with a little sword fight. Shhhh, don’t tell the car wash owners. 

Another example is to let your child pick out all the fruits and veggies and let them weigh them at the grocery store. Even a toddler can do this! Or for older kids, allow them to create the grocery list and find all the items without your help. My homeschooled son does this a lot especially since we live within walking distance of a grocery store. 

Let Your Child Pick The Activity

This is part of our guidelines. As I mentioned above, the child may not know what to do with you. Giving options works well as long as your child has the final say. Have your child use this free printable! 

When kids pick the activity, they become more invested. Ever since reading, “Self-Driven Child” by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, I realized that our kids need to have a sense of control (with direction from us, of course). When we hand over the control by giving our kids choices, they slowly build up a stress tolerance that will positively affect their lives into adulthood. 

Let Loose and Have Fun!

Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself during this time. I talk to many parents who dread playing and this is usually because their play was hindered as a child. Dig deep inside and find that inner child and guide your child to pick something you truly enjoy! For me, I can’t get myself to enjoy playing with superhero toys, but give me a cape and allow me to “act” like a superhero and I’m all in. For special time, I allow my child to choose but I can also encourage or influence what activity he picks. 

Find special ways that sprinkle a little extra fun. Connect by locking eyes making sure your child knows you really enjoy him or her. 

Quality one-on-one time ideas free printable

Preview The Activity

If you are heading out of the house, talk about what you are going to see. Then, when you are at the location, seeing those will be more meaningful. It may also bring out the inquisitive side of your child. Since they know it’s coming, they will be more apt to ask questions. 

Take Pictures or Video

Pull out your phone, camera, or video camera to capture the time together. Limit how many photos you take, though. Possibly only pull out the phone once. I’m guilty of being more concerned about taking the pictures than enjoying my kids and it may be because I happen to be a professional photographer. I just can’t help myself! However, I’ve realized this started to make my kids loathe getting their pictures taken. Now, I hand them my big camera, and they LOVE capturing what we are doing-especially if we use the wireless remote.

It also helps that they enjoy looking back through old pictures truly appreciating being able to relive memories. Don’t keep the photos on your phone either! You can use your special time to create scrapbooks, make wall murals, or custom frames to hang on the wall. Also, note that you should still have quality time WITHOUT capturing it. Just because you don’t have a photo of it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

Incorporate Play

Use pretend play to tap into your child’s imagination. Play is the foundation of creativity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” Play allows kids to experience a sense of belonging in this world. 

If you can’t stand making a horse go round and round and round a stable or pretend to be a little girl lost in the woods who is calling for her horse to come to save her, use play in a way that is more natural to you. If you go to a zoo, pretend to be the animal you see or if you’re staying home, play store or use a felt board to create a little scene. Incorporate your interests into play with your child.

Review The Quality Time 

Recall specific memories of one-on-one time you have spent together. Talking about these memories will allow your child to bring them up on their own. For example, we use a felt board during FOCUS time to play together. My son often recalls the stories we created. He mentions the characters and the funny things they did. 

Brains are shaped by experience. The more we remind ourselves of specific memories and experiences, it moves into long-term memory. And the more positive experiences kids store in their long-term memory, the more impact it will have on how they interact and react with their own families when they are older. 

When You Really Don't Have Time

You may be in a season right now where it is impossible to be consistent with individual quality time with each of your kids. I get it, I’m in that season right now with a full-time job, a homeschooler, and two other kids who are in activities and go to school. If you have more than one or two children, the time commitment to do this may not be in the cards. The thought of needing to spend daily uninterrupted time with each of my boys sometimes stressed me out. I have had to throw that mama guilt out the window! And realize I have options. 

Here are a few things that can help:

  • Remember, this may only be a season | My kids are getting older and it is easier to squeeze in some one-on-one time. The 25-minute ride to and from school is a perfect opportunity to have special time with my almost thirteen-year-old. Or when he gets home, we go throw some hoops for 5 minutes or so. 
  • You may not be as busy as you feel | For me, there are variables I can move around and create a schedule that works for me. I’m super thankful for a job that provides these opportunities. 
  • Find an awesome tribe | I have the best community not just at work and within my friend groups but also a tribe that supports my children. My kids have some awesome friends with parents who take the time to bake with them or do a craft. We don’t have family nearby but you may! A caretaker, grandparent, family friend, aunt, or uncle can all be utilized to fill that attention bucket to the rim. 
  • Another idea may be to come up with something super short that only that specific child does such as a special handshake | Every time I have a second, I gaze into my child’s eyes and sing a song that is special to us both. I’ve learned this connection is irreplaceable.
  • Lastly, explain to your kids how important they are to you and that's why you're in this season of life - working hard, going to school, taking classes, or whatever else you are doing to improve your family life | My older kids especially understand things. I recommend that you share the love and joy you have with your kids in any way you can. Being open and honest will help them understand a little more or at least be able to reflect back on what you were sacrificing.

Quality Time Activities

Now, the question is, "What activities do we do for Quality Time?" I'm so happy you asked! I’ve created a printable with over 60 activities you can do with your kids. The activities are sorted by things to do in the house and out of the house. Some may require more than 10-20 minutes but can be incorporated into your daily tasks and routines. 

Download Your Free Printable

Get your free Quality Time Ideas when you sign up for our weekly e-newsletter, The Sunday Spark by filling out the form below!

Quality time ideas downloadable free printable

You Won’t Regret This Special Time!

Stop, attune and lean into your relationship with your child which will build a strong connection and I promise, will result in less unwanted behavior and a securely attached child.

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