Siblings Can’t Stop Arguing? All it Takes is a Little Sugar!

My brother and I fought non-stop when we were young. We hit each other, pulled each other’s hair, argued constantly and wasted sixteen years disliking each other, when it could have been prevented. My brother is one of the nicest men I know and looking back, he was always a nice person. We just didn’t learn how to handle disagreements and got into an unhealthy pattern, until we decided enough was enough. We have now been close ever since.

When my children were born, I was determined not to let that happen. Although they are very different from one-another, they have an incredible relationship. So incredible in fact, that now, at 18 and 20, they decided to move in together. Both saying “there’s no one I’d rather live with than my brother”. I worked on that relationship since the day my second child was born and I can help you do that as well if you are now expecting your second child (just leave me a comment at the bottom of this article). But for those of you who already have problems helping your children get along and stopping the constant bickering – this article is for you.

If you want your children to stop arguing with each other, all it really takes is a little sugar – literally.

Next time your children disagree about something or are upset at each other, grab a sugar cube or a small package of sugar wherever you happen to be and simply explain that the best kept secret about arguments is that absolutely every single one of them can be solved with sugar (aka kindness, but please say sugar).

No matter how old your children are and trust me, I put this method to the test with my own two boys many times, it works like a charm. Here is how you do it:

  • Firstly, stop everything you are doing and address the issue. Children have to understand that when there is a problem, it needs to be resolved on the spot and to the point where everyone is satisfied – no exception.
  • Then, explain to your children that the goal is to first understand each other (one of Stephen Covey’s habits in his famous book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – also one of my personal favourites) then to find a solution that everyone is happy with.
  • The child who holds the sugar is the only one who can talk. All others have to listen.
  • Once the child said how they feel, the other child (or children) will repeat back to him what they interpret the issue to be (from the speaker’s point of view). For example:
    • Child with the sugar packet: I am mad that you took my toy without asking. I don’t like it when you just take my things because you leave them everywhere, I can’t find them when I want them and you leave grubby finger marks all over them. You don’t take care of my things as well as I do.
    • Child who was listening: you don’t like it when I take your toys without asking you first and you feel I don’t take care of them as well as you do.
  • If the child holding the sugar feels understood, they will then pass the sugar to the other child and listen to them without interjection or any other kind of interruption.
  • However, if the child holding the sugar does not yet feel understood, they keep the sugar and tries again to express what made them upset. This will go on until the child with the sugar feels completely understood by the other party (or parties).
  • You will have to guide this process at first, but trust me, it is a wise investment of your time since all you will have to do once they learn it is get the packet of sugar.
  • When it is your other child’s turn to explain their grievances, they will hold the sugar cube and explain what made them upset, or how they feel, from their point of view, until they feel completely understood. For example:
    • Child with the sugar now: You also take my toys without asking and I don’t complain when you do it, why can’t I do the same? Also, you pulled my hair and screamed at me when I took your toy and that hurt.
    • Child who is listening: you’re upset because I hurt you and because you don’t complain when I take your toys without asking but I don’t let you do the same.
  • Again, once the child holding the sugar feels completely understood, they can put the sugar down next to them and talk about what they each learned from the conversation with each other.
    • For example, one child might say that they didn’t realize they were doing the same thing to their sibling, or the other might say that they didn’t realize that their hands were not clean when playing with the borrowed toys and left marks all over it.
  • At this point, encourage your children to come up with a solution to their disagreement together.
    • You: now that you both listened to each other and truly understand each other’s points of view, what would you like to do to solve the issue?
    • Children’s possible solutions:
      • We could ask each other before borrowing toys
      • We could make sure that we take care of someone else’s things even better than we do our own
      • We could leave something we borrow back where we found it
    • It is a learning process, so you might have to ensure that they think of solutions that are good for all parties. If your child suggests not borrowing toys ever again, you could run through the scenario of how that would look like (for starters, they would each have a lot less toys to play with). And maybe that becomes the solution for a while if they both decide that is their preference. On the other hand, they could decide that they will both ask one-another before borrowing something and that they will be careful with the things they borrow. The solution is not necessarily one that you would have chosen as the parent, but it has to be one that both your children are happy with. Or all the parties involved (minus you) if there are more than two siblings involved.
    • Be patient here and stick to your goal: do not consider it solved until both children feel satisfied with the resolution and feel proud of having come up with it.
    • If children still have not reached that point or have something to add after having listened to one-another, do another round with the sugar cube. Especially at the beginning of this process, you will find that they are upset about many things and have a hard time distilling them to the issue at hand. That’s to be expected, after all, this is their first time trying to resolve an issue. You don’t have to solve all the issues in one day (unless your children want to keep going) – you could suggest that they try their solution until something else comes up and try the sugar again. Many children love the fact that the sugar packet gives them the power to talk and be listened to, uninterrupted.
    • Do not interfere, let your children do the work, otherwise you are being a judge, not a facilitator.
    • Do not resume any other activity until your children have reached a resolution.

Why Does This Method Work?

Children are learning to listen with the intent to understand each other, not merely to prove a point or determine who is right. Most times, children will find that they were both seeing the situation from different perspectives and that understanding one-another’s point of view allows them to find a solution to the problem that is respectful of both their needs.

You will find that by using my “sugar” method, children are developing empathy and also incredible negotiation skills – both of which are important life skills to learn.

By not focusing on anything else until their problem is solved, you will see that quickly, the arguments will be fewer over time. This is because it takes work to do the exercise (and the best part is, none of the work has to be done by you, the parent) and children want to get back to playing. They will be motivated to solve their problems efficiently in order to do something else and, well, get back to being happy.

How Much Should you get Involved?

Only get involved to tell them that you know they have the ability to solve the problem and coach them a little the first few times to make sure that they are following the “sugar rules”. Do not tell them what to say or how they should interpret what the other person is saying. Make sure they do not interrupt each other. When they get good at the sugar method, you will see that their solutions will evolve from compromises to real win-win solutions. If not, encourage them to keep looking for a way that makes them both happy instead of leaving them both less unhappy. You are teaching them not to settle for mediocrity, to reach for true synergy and to come up with a solution together.

How Soon can you Start?

As soon as children start arguing with words, they are old enough to use the sugar method. Over time, they will be able to use a more sophisticated method and be more creative in their solutions, but the main principle of the method, to resolve conflict by listening empathetically, is easy to grasp even for very young children.

What the Sugar Method will Teach your Child

The sugar method is really teaching us to use empathy, to handle disagreements with respect and kindness, to be sweet to each other and to reach out especially when you don’t see eye to eye. Giving children a sugar cube or a little package of sugar simply makes this message tangible and real for them.

You will be surprised to find out that this method works for anyone. In fact, I encourage you to try the method (exactly as you do with your children) with your spouse next time you have a disagreement. You will see firsthand how well it works. Do not talk until you hold the sugar. Instead, focus on understanding your partner to the point where they feel completely understood. Then take a turn with the sugar yourself. You will see conflicts vanish before your eyes once you are both focused on understanding each other and coming up with a win-win solution.

The Sweetest Part

You are giving your children these important skills for life. Focusing on understanding one-another before trying to be understood is an incredibly important skill at any age which we could all benefit from mastering. Having the opportunity to practice this type of conflict resolution from a very young age is incredibly beneficial to your child.

The sweetest part is that next time your children are yelling at each other or even starting to argue, all you have to do is say: “let’s solve this with a little sugar” and watch them learn on their own.

Please let me know how it goes next time you try it – it is the only method you will need. Sweet!

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