Morning, meals and bedtime!

For most parents, these are quite simply the most stressful moments in the day: a time when sibling rivalry tends to be at its worst and tempers are frayed all round. But you can cut strife in your home by changing your parenting pattern.


Introduce a routine which means that the same things have to happen at roughly the same times

It’s up to us parents to get our children out of bed and off to nursery or school, put meals on the table and make sure everyone gets to bed at a reasonable hour. If these everyday events are triggers for bickering, they can become an ordeal.

What can you do to make things run more smoothly? Have you ever considered introducing a routine? You may find the idea of them restrictive and annoying, but when they work they can make a difference and help to make you feel more sorted and on top of things.


If everyone is running around the house in a frenzy looking for lost reading books, the atmosphere is bound to be stressful. So try to organise all the things your children need for the next day ahead of time.

Make sure everybody in the family knows that there are some things that have to be done every morning by a certain time, like getting dressed and brushing teeth. Introduce a routine which means that the same things have to happen at roughly the same times – and ensure everybody understands this. And, as part of your new regime, suggest that every item in the house has a home and everybody knows where it is. If your children are the type to get sidetracked, you might make a list together of what needs to be done when, and tape it on the wall.

Aiming for this level of organisation can remove endless possible layers of friction between siblings. It works best if you explain carefully to children in advance what changes you plan, and even train them up! Show them exactly where to hang their coats and put their schoolbags so that they can always find them. Remind them a couple of times what they need to do, and on the day the new system takes effect they should be good to go!

Smoother organization should mean your mornings are calmer, which will have a knock-on effect on the children making them less likely to squabble. Even if they do start a row, you’ll at least have built some extra time into the morning routine to deal with minor blips.


Planning mealtimes in advance can seem like a pain. But family meals can be a sibling flashpoint, and you’ll be much better prepared to handle it if you aren’t distracted by last-minute cooking. Don’t leave yourself perpetually on the hop in the kitchen! Children are likely to become fractious if the clock is ticking towards teatime and you’re raiding the fridge trying to decide whether to throw some fish fingers on the grill, or whip up a spag bol. It can be really helpful to plan a full weekly menu in advance, so there’s no last minute panic. But if this is just a step too far for you, try instead to keep ahead of the game on a daily basis. If you’re cooking anything that takes time, like roasting a chicken, make sure you’ve turned on the oven to heat, and put the food in it, in plenty of time so there’s no rush at bedtime.

This can cut down on sibling arguments by improving the atmosphere at mealtimes. If you’re rushing around crashing saucepans on the stove and chucking plates and cutlery on the table because you’re stressed and short of time, your children will pick up on it and the next thing you know, they’ll be squabbling amongst themselves.

Instead of snapping out orders when children drag their heels, misbehave or quarrel, try to give advance warning about what behaviour you expect. No-one’s going to enjoy their meal if it begins with you yelling: ‘I told you, it’s dinnertime. Turn off that TV NOW!’

You’ll get more co-operation if you try telling kids what you expect ahead of time. This might be:

  • When dinner is ready, the TV gets turned off straight away – no excuses. We could pause the programme, or record it, and you could finish watching it after dinner.
  • From now on, there’ll be no kicking or pushing each other at the table.

Expect to remind them a couple of times. If you can stay calm, you’ll find the whole tone at the table starts to improve.


Children are almost certain to go off to sleep in a calmer and happier mood if you make it a priority to set aside time to relax with them, or read a story. It’s a good idea to set up rules in advance so children know when the TV gets switched off, which cuts down on endless fights about it just before bedtime. When kids know they’ll each get a chance for a chat or a cuddle, they’re also far less likely to wind each other up to get your attention.

An important key to cutting down on sibling rivalry at stress times is to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them. With small children, you may need to talk them through all the little steps along the way, or make a list and tape it to the wall so they understand what is supposed to happen when. You could even draw it in pictures. It’s probably a combination of tidying up, bath, teeth and pyjamas and then a story.

Once children know what they’re supposed to be doing, and they’re confident they’ll get their turn. they’re less likely to disrupt their siblings’ time with you or complain that you’re taking too long.

When kids know they’ll each get a chance for a chat or a cuddle, they’re also far less likely to wind each other up to get your attention.


  • Instead of nagging children, try working on a solution together so that everyone begins pulling in the same direction.
  • Give lots of praise. Telling children what they’re doing right encourages them to continue doing it. You could praise them for coming up with good ways to solve problems which helps them feel you value their ideas. Or you could praise them for doing what you’ve asked, or even for arguing less.
  • In the bigger scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if you run out of milk or lose your child’s toothbrush. But if you get very anxious about it, children will almost certainly pick up on how you feel. If they can feel the tension in the air, they may well take it out on each other. So, if the routine is stressing you out, take a few deep breaths, walk away for a minute or so to calm down and do what you can to keep your feelings under control.
  • Explain the behaviours you expect from your children and introduce consequences if they ignore them. There will inevitably be times when you’ll have to enforce the rules. If this doesn’t come easily to you, it helps a lot to tell your children ahead of time what’s expected. Once you’ve managed to enforce consequences a few times, your children will know when you mean business.


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