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Sibling Rivalry: The Magic Trick That Stops It Instantly

It's a familiar scene: Kids screaming at each other, complaining that, "He got a bigger piece of pie," or "She got to stay up an hour later last night."

When sibling rivalry rears its ugly head, what do you do?

Try to reason with the kids? Scream, threaten or punish them? Ignore it and run for cover?

None of these methods is very effective for very long.

But I've discovered a tactic that works every time. It really is guaranteed to end sibling battles, almost instantaneously. The only downside is it requires a bit of patience on your part.

The trick is understanding that it doesn't matter what the kids are arguing about, the real battle is for your attention.

Really. They could be screaming at the top of their lungs over who gets to play with a certain toy. They could be red-faced and foaming at the mouth over who got to sit in the favorite chair. It doesn't matter what they're arguing about. What they're really saying is, "Mom, I want more of your attention. I want to know you love me."

Understand this, and you're 80 percent of the way to resolving all sibling battles.

So here's how to resolve the battles: Try to catch them before the argument escalates to the point where one or both kids need to be reprimanded.

If you can't do that, wait for the next time. There always is a next time, isn't there?

Next, make it clear that you aren't taking sides.

Now try to discern which child is feeling the need for attention most. It will typically be the child who started it, though that's not always easy to figure out.

Turn to that child first and say, "Look, I can see you're upset. I'm wondering if maybe you need some more attention from me. Can I give you a hug?" (Or rub your back or throw the football around or whatever you do when you give your kids attention.)

When that child is calm, repeat with the other child(ren).

Your goal is to let your kids know that:

1) You understand they need your attention; and

2) You accept them; and

3) You aren't going to judge them for needing or wanting your love.

Depending on how old the kids are and how long the rivalry has lasted, you may hear a little sarcasm. But I promise you, there's a soft vulnerability underneath those barbs. If you can ignore the sarcasm and keep offering more attention, you'll be amazed how quickly the arguments disappear.

Giving them attention doesn't mean you have to be at their beck and call for the rest of the day. It may mean you give them hugs and kisses. It may mean sitting and talking with them. Or it may just mean sitting quietly and playing a game of their choice for a few minutes.

When They Both Want Your Attention at Once

It helps if you warn them that you'll have to take turns giving each child individual attention. I handle this in a really straightforward way.

I just say something like, "Listen, I can see you both want my attention now. And honestly, you both deserve it. (That's the best line I've come up with yet!)

I really want to give both of you the attention you deserve, but I'm only human. So how about if I sit over here and talk with you first, then I'll play a game with you...and so on."

This also works really well when there's a new baby in the house. Obviously, if you're in the middle of feeding, changing or bathing the baby, you can't give the older one(s) the attention they want.

So just say as sympathetically as possible, "You know what? I bet you want a hug right now, don't you?" Or, "Could you use some mommy time?" Or, "Does it seem to you like the baby is getting all my attention?"

Then say, "You deserve my attention, too. And I want to give it to you. Right now, I can't because I have to feed the baby. But as soon as I'm finished I'm going to...[give you a great big hug, play Candy Land with you, etc.]

Is This Really Guaranteed to Work?

Yes, but, of course, you have to put it into practice.

I am the first to admit that when I'm tired, hungry, cranky or PMSish (or worse, postpartumish!), I just can't bother with this trick. I mean, geez, even Barney would get PMS if he were a woman (and not a make-believe character)! So don't expect the battles to stop instantaneously and never arise again.

Plus, when the kids are tired and cranky, it doesn't matter how much attention you give them, they're not going to respond to anything but food and sleep. Understand that, too.

The reason this trick is guaranteed to work because it's based on understanding that the root of all sibling rivalry is a battle for your attention. Even if you do nothing other than understand that, and accept that all kids need attention (probably more than you have to give), you're 80% of the way there.

Stephanie Gallagher is the author of several parenting books and creator of "Mommy Merry Go Round," the hilarious new online movie that's taking the motherhood community by storm! See it today at http://www.mommymerrygoround.com

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