We have two children, a daughter who’s 13 and a son who is 11. My wife and I are running into problems when we want to go out for the evening and we ask our daughter to be home to babysit her brother. Both kids are allowed to have one friend over, but they still invariably end up feuding with each other. Is there some way we can alleviate the fighting when they’re at home together?
Your children are old enough to stay home together when you’re out, but you shouldn’t put one in charge of the other to “babysit” him when they’re only two years apart in age. The younger one will naturally resent his sister bossing him around, and will try to make it difficult for her. When you ask your daughter to stay home, explain that it isn’t to look after her brother but just as a precaution. State that she is not to try to be in charge of him, and you will not hold her responsible if he misbehaves.
Before you go out, tell the children that each of them is responsible for his or her own behaviour and that of his or her own friend, but they are not responsible for one another. Set out clear expectations of what should happen, for example that any mess should be cleaned up by the person who made the mess. Tell them that if they fight that’s their business, they have to learn to work out their conflicts, and you will not get involved to become the judge when you get home. It may help to set the rules in the presence of their friends, as the friends are likely to put pressure on your kids to behave well in your absence. Perhaps you can offer an incentive for managing things well if you get home and the house is clean and no one is complaining to you about the other, both of your children will get a small reward for “babysitting” themselves.
When you get home, follow through. If one child complains about the other, refuse to listen to it and repeat that they are old enough to work out their own conflicts. Don’t allow them to tattle on one another regarding misbehaviour which you didn’t observe (“Jimmy called me a pig!”). If you do observe something like a food mess in the living room, discuss it with the person who is responsible, or with both if both are responsible. Express appreciation for whatever the kids have done well, and comment positively on how mature they are becoming. This will encourage them to do well next time.