When Your Kids Won’t Stop Fighting in the Car (Or Other Places)

 

What This Situation Is Like for Parents

 

You’re looking forward to a peaceful family vacation… or you just need to run into the store to grab a couple of things, which shouldn’t take too long. But then….

…Your children start pushing each other because the other is getting into their space…

…Your kids argue about whose turn it is to choose the next video to watch… or who got to push the cart in the grocery store last…

You try to intervene, but that only seems to make things worse.

You’d love your kids to enjoy each other, but at you’re willing to settle for them not being NASTY to each other. But you don’t know how to make that happen.

 

What This Situation Is Like for Kids

 

Kids know you want them to “be good” and not fight with each other. But their brains aren’t really wired for “being good” because…

… When the activity they’re working on gets dull and they see that their sibling is sitting right there and they KNOW they can get a reaction out of them… that suddenly seems way more interesting than what they were doing, and they don’t know how to stop themselves…

… When they KNOW it’s their turn to push the cart, but their brother INSISTS that it isn’t, and they have no idea how to get their point across (because mom and dad are just telling them to “stop fighting!”)…all they know how to do is fight back… 

Because of the way kids’ brains are wired, they really do struggle to fight through monotony… they don’t know how to handle it when their sibling is NOT BEING FAIR…

And just like their parents, they don’t know why they can’t stop fighting with their siblings. They just know that they can’t.

 

 

How It Usually Goes  

When Kids Won’t Stop Fighting In the Car

 

Scenario:

Lizzy, her sister Brooklyn, and their brother Blake are in the back seat of the car. Brooklyn is playing with her tablet when Lizzy starts to annoy her.

 

Brooklyn: Lizzy, leave me alone!

Lizzy: I just want to see what you’re watching!

Brooklyn: But your face is blocking the screen!

Lizzy: I’m just looking. You can see around me.

Brooklyn: No I can’t! MOOOOMM!

Mom: Stop it, Lizzy. Leave Brooklyn alone.

Brooklyn: Yeah, leave me alone.

Lizzy: I’m not doing anything!

Mom: You’re annoying your sister. You have your tablet. Watch on yours, Lizzy.

Lizzy: I don’t want to!

Brooklyn: Listen to what Mom said! Get OUT of my way NOW!

Lizzy: Mom! Did you hear what she SAID?!

Mom: Brooklyn, I was trying to get Lizzy to leave you alone. Let me handle it.

Brooklyn: But Lizzy is always annoying me.

Mom: Well YOU can’t be mean either!

Mom, Lizzy, and Brooklyn continue to argue. 

 

 

Another Way to Respond

When Kids Won’t Stop Fighting In the Car

 

Scenario:

Lizzy, her sister Brooklyn, and their brother Blake are in the back seat of the car. Brooklyn is playing with her tablet when Lizzy starts to annoy her.

 

Using Calm, Connect, Correct

Note that Lizzy and Brooklyn’s mom uses the “Calm, Connect, Correct” strategy.

She stays calm and instead of trying to referee the situation (which would only put one or both of the kids deeper into Yuck), she lowers her voice and remains calm.

She also  connects with each child without taking sides. She mentions each sister’s perspective so they feel heard and therefore will not immediately be defensive.

She corrects behavior first by allowing the girls to release Yuck before she moves to problem solving. Once they have released Yuck, she helps Lizzy find a solution for getting what she needs without bothering her sister.

 

Brooklyn: Lizzy, leave me alone!

Lizzy: I just want to see what you’re watching!

Brooklyn: But your face is blocking the screen!

Mom: Hey, Lizzy, what were you just watching?

Brooklyn: I was watching “Inside Out.”

Mom: Ah, you love that movie. Why’d you stop?

Brooklyn: Yeah, don’t bother me just because you don’t want to watch your movie.

Lizzy: I’m not BOTHERING YOU!

Mom (lowers her voice and says firmly): Brooklyn. Lizzy. 

Brooklyn: Yes you are bothering me! 

Lizzy: No I’m not!

Mom (looks at the girls but doesn’t say a word. They continue to argue for another minute. When the tension decreases, she begins talking calmly.) Brooklyn, you are watching your show and you want to keep watching.

Brooklyn: YES.

Mom: Lizzy, you’re done with “Inside Out” and wanted to see what Brooklyn was watching.

Lizzy: Yeah, and I’m not being annoying.

Mom: Lizzy, what else did you bring to do?

Lizzy: Nothing I want to do.

Mom: Oh that stinks. No wonder you’re looking for something else to do. 

Lizzy: Yeah.

Mom: I know when I’m looking for something to do, I sometimes try to look at what other people are doing too. (playfully) Well if you’re bored, there’s always your homework…

Lizzy: No way. 

Mom: OK then, I challenge you to come up with words that begin and end with the same letter. What words begin and end with “t”? 

Lizzy: The word “that”!

Mom: OK, think of a few more and let me konw. 

Lizzy leaves Brooklyn alone while she comes up with the more words for her mom.

 

…And if the kids STILL Don’t Stop Fighting

  • Lizzy and Brooklyn’s mom needs to re-state her boundary: “The fighting needs to stop. I will pull over until it’s over.”  
  • That will get upset (and release their Yuck) while she remains firm. 
  • Once they are calm, she can talk to them and help them figure out what each girl needs in this situation. IF they have released their Yuck, they will be able to come up with solutions; while they are still in Yuck, they will refuse to cooperate. 

 

 

What Makes the In-the-Moment Strategy Work

 

The “proactive deposits” discussed in the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If children won’t stop fighting, remember: 

 

Depositing into CALM

Lizzy and Brooklyn’s mom will NOT be able to stay calm if

a.) her biological or emotional needs are low (if she’s tired or feels like no one ever listens to her… )

b.) her expectations are not realistic — if she thinks that the kids will not fight when they’re on a car ride.

When she makes sure her own needs are met and sets realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, Lizzy and Brooklyn’s mom is more likely to be able to stay calm. 

See Step 1 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap for help meeting your needs and setting expectations proactively so you can stay calm.

 

Depositing into CONNECT

Lizzy and Brooklyn’s mom will only be able to connect if

a.) she respects that all behavior has a reason and

b.) she understands those reasons (in this case, kids will bicker in the car, especially when they are in close quarters and don’t know instinctively how to solve problems — like running out of things to do — in a positive way)

When she becomes comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, she will be able to connect more effectively. 

See Step 2 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap to learn the reasons for children’s behavior so you can connect more effectively. 

 

Depositing into CORRECT

Brooklyn and Lizzy’s mom will only be able to use tools to effectively correct if:

a.) She has demonstrated consistently in the past that she means what she says; for example, when she says the kids’ names and then stops talking, she means business. 

b.) She has made enough deposits into the relationship with each of her children that trying to resolve this issues will not put them deeper into Yuck.

When she demonstrates that she means what she says and when she makes deposits into the kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, she will be able to correct their behavior more effectively.  

See Step 3 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap  to learn more about improving your influence so you can correct behavior.