In Defense of Bickering


If I didn’t lose you with that title, good. Let’s be honest: No parent enjoys hearing bickering. It’s annoying and often seems never-ending. Since I have six kids, the various possibilities for how many current arguments are happening seems maddening. It makes me want to pull out my hair. Or run out the door and drive away. Or send them to my parents’ house. Or drink. 

But, I’ve gotta tell you . . . there is something to the bickering that adds dimension to their relationships. In their jockeying for position or insistence on being right, they’re figuring out what it means to resolve conflict. Bickering often happens when they’re bored, and since I believe that boredom is good for kids, I think what they do when they’re bored can be too (there are exceptions, including, but not limited to, painting desks with nail polish and cutting bangs up to the hairline). 

When my kids bicker, they quickly go for the buttons. You know, the ones most easily pushed that will send a sibling into hyper-galactic orbit. “Interesting things you’re doing with your hair there,” or, “Seems like so-and-so isn’t that into you,” or, “Do you always watch shows meant for little kids?” all make for good bickering sessions. Something reactionary definitely gets shot back and plenty of other voices chime in, taking sides and keeping score. It can be impressive. 

Realize that I’m not talking about truly damaging fights, where there is physical fall-out, or where the group gangs up on one. I’ll intervene in those situations when some adult control is necessary. Thankfully those aren’t very common, but, as mine get older and teen hormones are floating heavy in the air, scary moments are inevitable. 

Sometimes I’m at the end of my rope and the bickering is just driving me crazy, prompting a shriek of “EVERYONE GET OUT OF MY SIGHT RIGHT NOW, AND I’D BETTER NOT BE ABLE TO HEAR YOU EITHER!” That happens. But I’m convinced that often they must bicker it out. If I shut down all tense moments before resolution, how will they learn to resolve them? Many times I’ve half-listened to the bickering, hearing sharp voices and seeing eye rolls, only to find that minutes later they’ve all agreed to get a board game out or go play football in the street together. And, other times, someone stomps off. That’s okay too, because you need to learn when to walk away, cool off, and deal with it later. Or maybe just forget it. 

I don’t praise them for bickering. It’s evidence of their selfishness and pride, just like it is for me. But, I do think the struggle to understand each other, make concessions, and ask for forgiveness when they crossed the line is an important part of their relationship development. In the future, those lessons will come in handy with others too, and I want them to learn this stuff in a house with people who are morally obligated to love and accept them forever. So, I praise them when they resolve something, or at least make an attempt. And when they are miserably self-absorbed, I encourage them to choose their words more carefully next time. 

Courtesy of Jewett Photography

If your kids don’t bicker, bless you and your perfect parenting techniques! But, I’m guessing yours do. So be encouraged: Bickering isn’t fun, but it can be productive. Let your kids try to work some things out without immediately jumping in to stop all thoughtless or selfish behavior. Give them a little space to be siblings

My sisters and I bickered endlessly about everything. Ev. er. y. thing. Guess what? We’re the best of friends now. Also, we still bicker, which makes me think we’ll be even better friends when we’re old ladies. I think that sounds pretty cool. 


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