Feuding Siblings

kids bickering
For lots of kids, summer is open season on siblings. There is plenty of time for fussing, fighting and backseat bickering.

The Early Show's family and adolescence counselor Mike Riera explains what all the feuding is about and what parents can do.

Summer is different from the rest of the year for siblings. The less structured season contributes to more arguments that escalate within the family. Summer camp one week, nothing the next and a family trip afterwards can make anyone's life feel a little chaotic.

Children's schedules are different than the other parts of the year. They are doing different things. Not all are in school. Lots of the time, the children are with each other and parents. And when vacation expectations are not met, children may become irritated.

Riera says it's the age difference between siblings that seems to matter the most in determining why they fight. Remember, we're speaking in general terms here. Parents have to apply the specifics to their children.

Less than four years apart, and the closer in age in general, kids often compete against one another with lots of put-downs for the loser. Four or more years apart and they tend to compete for parents' attention, and much less against one another. Most parents can distinguish the two because they just feel different.

Parents may feel frustrated or helpless when siblings hassle, tease, and fight with each other. Bu, they can send lots of messages to their children with the sacred phrase, "work it out between yourselves. And if you can't, well then you have to stop playing the game."

This sends lots of important messages. First, it says that the parents notice what the children are doing. Second, it puts the responsibility on the kids because the parents trust they can work it out. Third, it allows the parents to side-step the choice between the two.

If they can't work it out, the parents should bring a halt to the activity in question.

Of course, if one child is bullying or taking advantage of the other, then parents should intervene directly with that child.

Parents face a different dilemma when children fight for their affection. Once the adults feel the fights are about attention, they need to tell the siblings to behave before the parents stop paying attention to either of them. Parents can also divide their attention clearly when talking to the siblings and follow through:

"Jason, I'm going to talk to and listen to Cheryl for the next two minutes, and then I'll talk to and listen to you. So please wait your turn. And we'll all go back and forth until we're all done."

Under normal circumstances, if parents say and do this a couple of times, they will not have to say it after awhile. The children will just understand and trust that the parent will take care of each of them one at a time.

If you have a question for Mike Riera about dealing with your teen, send an email to sat@cbsnews.com with "Ask Mike" in the subject line. Or write to "Ask Mike" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. Your question may be featured on future shows.

Parents should not think the feuding siblings will gain cooler heads once they turn into teen-agers and presumably more mature. The good news, however, is that there will be less conflict because they'll be out of the house and away from each other more often. The bad news is that their fights become more volatile and conniving.

Parents can get their kids to stop fighting, but they can't make them get along. The children will have their good days and bad days with one another. The parents' job, says Riera, is to maintain the peace, even if it is filled with tension.

Mike Riera has more than 20 years of experience in the education and counseling fields. He and co-author Joe DiPrisco recently published, "Right From Wrong: Instilling a Sense of Integrity in Your Child." Their earlier book, "Field Guide to the American Teenager," was one of the top-selling parenting books of 2000 on amazon.com. Mike travels the country, speaking with -- and listening to -- parents, educators and teens. Mike lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, 6-year-old daughter, and 2-month-old son.