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Silencing My Little Brute Family

April 12, 2011

My kids argue like The Little Brute Family kids, but at least mine can swim and sled

As a child, one of my favorite books was The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban (the genius, IMHO, who wrote the Frances series). It’s a witty, ultimately touching story about a snaggletooth family of little brutes (named, aptly enough, the Brutes) who, as it says on the back cover, “ate sand and gravel for porridge for breakfast and stick and stone stew for dinner. When they tried to fly kites, the kites bumped on the ground. No wonder they snarled and howled and grumbled and groaned…”

I fancy I cook more appetizing food than stick-and-stone stew and we haven’t tried flying kites yet this spring, but I swear my family is the real-life version of the Brutes–only with slightly better teeth. The snarling, howling, and groaning starts before they are fully awake: Our three children share a full-size bed by choice (so there must be some mutual love, right?!), which can get pretty crowded with stuffed animals, Pillow Pets, and miscellaneous blankets. Daphne, our 5.5-year-old girl twin, splays out in her sleep and wakes up grumpy; John, her twin, usually wakes up chipper and active. The first sounds out of their room, then, are often Daphne griping at John for shaking the bed or pulling the covers off. Then comes the arguing over who stands where while they brush their teeth, comb their hair, or stand in the shower. By the time they leapfrog down the stairs for a non-porridge breakfast, the arguing has reached a fevered pitch—and there’s me, in the kitchen making lunches post-run, trying to restore peace.

Instead, within minutes, I’m sucked into the vortex-of-volatility. If tears somehow haven’t flown upstairs, they are sure to fall during breakfast time. This morning it was John and 9-year-old Phoebe tustling over a jelly-like toy frog that sticks to the ceiling. The frog is Phoebe’s, but John “had it first.” (Geez, can you hear the echoes in space of that argument?! I still can…) Then Daphne had to turn on Phoebe, nagging her about why her big sis was wearing a shirt the kindergartner insisted was hers. And on and on it goes, reaching a crescendo for all our neighbors to hear when the kids fight like literal cats and dogs, snarling and clawing each other for preferred seats in the minivan. Is it any wonder I’ve dubbed us The Bickersons?

Happier Brutes, but still in need of orthodontia

The solution for the original Brute family came in the form of “a little wandering lost good feeling in a field of daisies” Baby Brute found one spring morning. We only have daffodils in our yard: While they smell divine and look beautiful (and the kids and I recently enjoyed a few bicker-free minutes discussing which varieties were our favorites), that flower patch doesn’t offer up any long-term solution.

But last week I found one way to quell the squabbles: have mom go mute. I lost my voice chatting to women at a race expo, then racing. Worried I wouldn’t be able to talk at the RLAMiversary event this past weekend, I imposed a day of silence on myself. It was incredibly tough—and poor Daphne worried I’d never speak again—but it made the children stop what they were doing and “listen” to me. Instead of resorting to shouting, when the kids were misbehaving, I snapped my fingers or clapped my hands to get their attention. The first few times that was enough to distract them and quiet them down. After that novelty wore off, I stepped up my game, and starting miming what I wanted them to do or what they needed to stop doing. This impromptu charades calmed the brewing storms.

At the end of The Little Brute Family, after “the little good feeling” stuck around for a year, that family “changed their name to Nice.” I’m not ready to hit my mute button for a year, but I am trying to remain above the fray and stay quieter during the inevitable conflicts. I’m curious to hear what works for you to banish the bickering.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 3:55 am

    *Run*, don’t walk, run to your nearest book sop (or get online to your favourite online book shop ASAP) and get a copy of Dr Kevin Leman’s ‘Have a New Kid by Friday’. Amazing book with great strategies for dealing with all sorts of kid’s behaviours, incluidng bickering/fighting/sibling rivalry. My kids are pretty much as you describe, and Dr Leman makes the point when kids are bickering etc, they’re actually co-operating, and. His strategy is to put them in a room together and not let them come out until they work it all out!!! Definitely don’t buy in to it as the adult, eventually they’ll realise that you’re not giving them any attention and if they want life to be at all pleasant they’ll sort themselves out!!
    As far as tattling goes, ignore it. Tell the child you don’t want to hear it, and it will take the wind out their sails. Has worked so far in this house – now just 14589 other behaviours to sort out!!!

    • Amanda permalink
      April 12, 2011 5:49 am

      I’m buying that book, Allison.

    • April 12, 2011 6:06 am

      I tried putting my older two, ages 5 and 6, in our tiny powder room to sort out a problem. It was ugly, but it worked. Eventually!

    • April 12, 2011 6:33 am

      Love it! Great idea! I’m going to try this and the whispering idea below. Thanks so much for sharing this idea. I know I need to change how I react to change the whole situation. Now I have an idea of how to change.


  2. April 12, 2011 4:45 am

    Sheesh! I wonder if it’s the age as my kids are 5.5 and 9 and we’re at an all-time bickering crescendo I think.
    I go the threat route: no Easter basket, no treats, no tutu dress etc. It’s a short-term fix but it’s all I’ve got.

  3. Emily S permalink
    April 12, 2011 5:32 am

    I wish I had the “magic bullet” for this- but honestly, I don’t. I have noticed, however, that when I get quiet and ignore the behavior, it tends to go away quicker. They don’t like a silent mommy!

  4. April 12, 2011 6:09 am

    I heard a “professional” (I can’t remember who…) say that whispering when you feel like yelling forces them to be quiet enough to hear you. Yeah, well, it was worth a shot and it DOES work but I’m loud by nature and so, naturally, are my 4 kids. {SIGH}

    Let me know when you figure this out!

  5. April 12, 2011 6:10 am

    I think mine would *like* a silent mommy!!

    I try to focus on graciousness and kindness, but sometimes when I’m screaming my head off I’m not entirely certain I’m effectively making my point. I too wish I had a solution, but it’s a revolving door of strategies, all of which require a great deal of patience.

    Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. I just try to have it more often than I don’t!

  6. April 12, 2011 6:27 am

    Love this! Bickering…I have an arsenal of things that work; I just have to know what piece to use at the time…technology us usually first, anything that requires batteries or a plug. They hate that. A little shame works, “Would you like Mrs. Reid to see you treating each other this way?”

  7. Dawn Pfahning permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:54 am

    A mother of twins once gave me a plan of action that worked wonders for me. I have 2 daughters, so I simplified the plan. Even dates were Sarah’s, odd days were Hannah’s. On “their” days, they got first choice. On even days of the month, Sarah picked the movie, picked the channel, picked the book, picked where they sat in car, got to go first, etc. On odd days of the month, Hannah got to make the choices. This worked great for YEARS.

    Now you may wonder, but I have more than 2 kids. It takes a little more organization (I babysat 2 more girls). I took a calendar and wrote their names on it. They were old enough to read the calendar. The oldest got day 1, then next oldest got day 2, and so on. I was amazed at how many arguments we avoided.

    If they were sick, or away, they did not get to “make up” their day. They just waited for their turn to come around.

    Hope this makes sense!

    • April 12, 2011 7:45 am

      We do this for who goes to bed first every night! Works like a charm. My daughter gets odds because she was born on an odd day, and my son gets evens because he was born on an even day.

  8. Jennifer A. permalink
    April 12, 2011 7:35 am

    I make mine clean each other’s rooms. This is good incentive for the older one who doesn’t want little brother rifling through his stuff!!!!

  9. April 12, 2011 7:48 am

    Sounds like my house this morning! My son, a natural morning person, was “shaking his booty” at the breakfast table (he’s 3…picture him standing in his chair backwards shaking his little rear end over his cinnamon toast…priceless). My daughter, like her father, is not a morning person, and this brought her to tears becauser her little brother wasn’t “using good manners.” I had to laugh. And take a picture. Then we let our daughter pick one bad habit to try out…she picked her nose, which made her laugh. And all was right in the world. 🙂

    Sometimes, you just have to shake it off and go with the flow, something that does not come easily to me.

    I like the idea of whispering. I’ve given myself a timeout before…that gets there attention too.

    • April 12, 2011 7:48 am

      Oh, my…really should proofread before hitting reply. “There” should say “their”…and I’m an English teacher!

    • Holly S. permalink
      April 12, 2011 9:19 am

      I’m relieved to know that I’m not the only mom witnessing booty-shaking over the breakfast table–I’ve seen it more than once. I think I may try taking a picture next time to see if it’s a deterrent!

  10. Tryna permalink
    April 12, 2011 9:49 am

    I love this, especially because it gives me another idea for a book to buy. I have learned all kinds of strategies for dealing with bickering twins, but usually learn the most when I just watch. I was an only child, and seeing their relationship grow and evolve hugs my heart.

  11. April 12, 2011 10:40 am

    Don’t know about banishing the bickering, but I sure can silence it… by taking the dog out or putting my earbuds in my ears and going for a run 🙂 Oh, that’s not what you meant, is it?

    When my 9 and 7 year old boys were little, I used to separate them when they argued. Then, my Dr. said that’s exactly what I should NOT do. Instead, put them in a room together so that they have to work it out.

    It really does work like a charm. The kids may hate it at first, but by the time they’re done, they’re best friends and laughing like crazy. If only I would remember this every time they fought I’d save myself a little yelling – not that I would ever yell 🙂

  12. Robin permalink
    April 12, 2011 12:47 pm

    We go the “work it out yourselves” route too. At least most of the time — and most of the time it works. Sometimes we don’t do very well and get caught up in it…it happens to all of us. Thank goodness for running.

  13. Jill Dettman permalink
    April 12, 2011 2:29 pm

    I banished the bickering by only having one child!! No one to fight with. While not the original intention of having an only, it *is* one of the perks!

  14. Nicole permalink
    April 12, 2011 5:22 pm

    I have a thirteen yr old stepdaughter, 5 year old daughter and almost 3 year old identical twins. I feel like a referee some days and if it weren’t for running, I would go mad! If I keep them active that helps with the bickering.

  15. April 12, 2011 5:31 pm

    I just put myself in a timeout.

  16. Staci permalink
    April 12, 2011 5:36 pm

    I LOVE these!! I’m literally writing these down! I’ve SO been down all those roads. Yelling, sending them to their rooms, ignoring, Mommy time-outs, etc. Thanks, Ladies!

  17. Danielle permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:52 pm

    OMG, my 8.5 and 4 year old girls have been fighting over one of those stupid sticky jelly frog things for what seems like EVER!

    I am getting better at letting them “work it out,” which inevitibly means “mom intervenes.” It’s when the bickering leads to the whining, and then the crying….oy….makes me crazy (and yell-y).

    What makes it all better are the times that they are so loving and silly and caring with each other and I know they will be best friends forever, whether they like it or not!

  18. Kathy Kappert permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:54 pm

    Thankfully, especially since I am not a morning person, my kids don’t fight in the morning. They save it all up for after school. My daughter will walk away for some ‘by herself’ time, but sometimes I send them to their rooms because, even though they are fighting they would rather be with each other than by themselves. Their bedroom doors are at a right angle to each other (if that makes sense) and before long they are apologizing to each other and one tries to sneak in the other’s room.

  19. Brandy permalink
    April 12, 2011 7:33 pm

    When our kids are bickering or fighting we make them sit and hold hands and sometimes at the end of their time then they have to say something nice about the other. They seem to get the point…

  20. Lisa permalink
    April 12, 2011 7:39 pm

    I like all these ideas but most of all I LOVE that I am once again reminded by all the RLAMers out there that I am not alone! I am buying the book!

  21. Yeiko Menzies permalink
    April 12, 2011 9:03 pm

    Sarah – I lost my voice because of a cold last fall and that 24 hours of silence was the best! My kids had to stop to listening to my whispering voice and for some reason they wouldn’t question what I was asking of them. As I have slipped back into “slightly” louder talking I have to remind myself that maybe silence is sometimes a better tool.

  22. Joanne permalink
    April 13, 2011 8:57 am

    OHHHH such wonderful ideas…While not a mom I am a teacher of 30 kindergartners and can always use new ways of problem solving…this is terrific!

  23. Amy permalink
    April 13, 2011 10:04 am

    We’ve been running into this same problem lately. My girls are 7 and almost 6, the boy is almost 2. The girls seems to try to find things to argue over. It’s out of control and I’m afraid that the boy will pick up their bad behaviors. I been using the reconciliation trick (send them to a room to work it our) since they were 2. It doesn’t seem to work anymore. They use the time to argue and fight even more. Lately we’ve been sending them into timeout for 6-7 minutes when the arguing starts. That quites them up and hopefully gives them time to think about how their behavior is not acceptable. Mostly it gives my husband some peace and quite for at least 6-7 minutes. I’m going to have to get the book recommended in the first comment. We are always in need of answers.

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