The Secret’s to Successfully Sportscasting my Children’s Squabbles

If someone told you that they had a magic cure that would end all sibling rivalry for good, I’m sure you would pay good money to be let in on that secret. Living with siblings who squabble, bicker, fight, torment and harass each other regularly throughout the day can be incredibly draining.

Unfortunately, this magic cure does not exist but there is a sure fire way to reduce the mental fatigue associated with fighting children. This strategy not only empowers children to learn from their arguments but also provides them with the opportunity to develop the skills that will enable them to negotiate through squabbles, themselves.

sportscasting 4

When I first heard of the idea of sportscasting, a term coined by RIE founder, Magda Gerber many years ago, I was intrigued. I wondered if coping with sibling rivalry could really be as simple as talking children through their actions, much like a narrator would do when describing a scene or actions of characters in a scene.

My mentor, Janet Lansbury (RIE associate and parent educator) explained to me:

“The difference with the RIE approach to squabbles is that we don’t dictate, suggest, teach or enforce “turns”. We really do trust the children to figure these things out for themselves (at your children’s age, especially). We would totally be there to prevent hitting, pushing, pinching, biting, but would be fine with a child pulling something out of another child’s hands…”

I decided to put it to the test and found that not only did the children respond astoundingly well, but as a parent I finally felt like I had the exact tool I needed to cope with sibling struggles without losing my mind.

I was freed of the burden I had felt when I thought my role was to solve their arguments for them and bring them to an abrupt stop. I was also empowered with the right words to say in these moments, reducing confusion and frustration on my part and bringing more consistency to my parenting.

Over time I have practised and refined my sportscasting technique following Janet’s advice.

My early sportscasting attempts projected too much of my own perceptions and bias onto the girls’ struggles. I still wanted to help bring about a conclusion as quickly as possible and this only served to heighten the sibling rivalry.

Janet pointed out that it is vital I remain neutral during altercations. There are no victims or perpetrators only two children behaving in a developmentally appropriate way and needing some support to help guide them through.

For example I might have errantly said to describe a toy snatching scenario: “P, you had the giraffe and L took it from you. L, P’s crying because you took her giraffe. It’s not nice to take things from other people.”

By saying ‘L took it’ it implies a victim and a perpetrator. L therefore feels I am taking sides hence, increasing her jealousy towards her sister. By adding ‘It’s not nice to take things from people’ I am inducing guilt and making L feel bad about herself thereby weakening her relationship with me.

Instead I could simply say: “P, you had the giraffe, now L has it.” If she is upset I could add: “You seem upset. You were still using it.” And that’s it!

We have been successfully sportscasting the children’s squabbles for three years now and have seen a dramatic increase in the number of altercations they are able to work through themselves. The following examples step you through the process of sportscasting for a number of different scenarios. They aim to provide you with the wording and actions you could take to help your little ones through their squabbles.

Remember, the key is, don’t ever take sides, even if it seems glaringly obvious to you that an injustice has been done.

Example one: Taking turns

I was washing up the breakfast dishes whilst the girls were playing in the play room. I heard both girls start screaming so I downed dish brush and headed in to see what was happening. When I got in there P (2 yo) was in our low hammock swing and L (3 yo) was climbing in on top of her. This is what transpired:

Me: “I didn’t see what happened here but you both seem upset. It looks like you both want the swing.” [Pause]

[To L] “L, you would like a turn on the swing?” [Pause]

[To P] “P, you haven’t finished swinging yet. You look like you are getting squashed under L. L, I’m going to help you hop off P.” [When there is risk of injury in squabbles, it is important to step in to keep all parties safe]

L then started happily pushing P on the swing for about 30 seconds before trying to climb back in the swing on top of P. P screamed.

L: “P, can I have a turn?”

Me: (After seeing that P was not responding after a short period of tiime – 10 secs ish) “L, I hear you asking for a turn on the swing. P doesn’t seem finished yet.”

L hopped back, moved away from the swing and began playing with a doll.

P used her feet on the floor to push herself for a little while longer (maybe two minutes) before climbing out and leaving the room.

L climbed in the swing and began pushing herself.

I returned to the dishes.

Example two: Taking toys

I was changing P’s nappy on her change table. There is a bed that backs onto the change table that L had climbed on to help me. P had picked up a little dog-shaped felt piece from the change table caddy and was looking at it. L, standing next to her, took it from her. P immediately began crying in protest.

Me:”’P you had that felt dog, now L has it.” [Pause while offering comforting body language] “I hear how upset you are!”

L: Hands back the dog with a pleasant, “Here you go!” Then sits in a washing basket on the bed moving right over to one side and calling to P, “’Here P, I made a spot for you.”

The girls then happily played in the washing basket for several minutes whilst I tidied the area.

Example three: Struggling over a toy

L was clippy clopping around the house on her hobby horse. After a while she put it down and moved to a different room to play with blocks. P came across the horse lying on the ground, picked it up and began riding it around the lounge room. L came back into the room and saw P with the horse.

L: “Noooo! That’s my horse!” and begins to try to pull the horse away from P.

P: Screams and holds on to the horse for dear life.

In this situation I have to move quickly but calmly to where the altercation is occurring. It is important that I can use my physical presence to block any acts of aggression or to ensure this struggle doesn’t end in pain for the children.

So with my hands poised at the ready I state between the shouts of protest: “You both want the horse. L, you were riding this horse earlier now P wants to use it.” [Pause]

L and P continue to struggle with the horse before L yanks it away from P and moves away.

I then support P who is crying “You really wanted that horse. I hear you,  you’re so upset.”

L then runs past and gets the other hobby horse from the cupboard and gives it to P.

Both girls clippy clopped around the house for a few more minutes before moving onto something else.

In this final scenario type, I find it particularly tempting to step in and stop the struggle as I worry that one of the girls might get pulled over especially when there is a bit of a strength difference between them but when I queried this with Janet she stated:

“When we put limits on the amount of struggle we allow, it sort of defeats the whole purpose…and actually encourages the children to push that limit.”

So I have had to learn to trust the children to sort through these themselves whilst being close by to prevent them from getting hurt.

Sportscasting really is the ultimate tool for coping with sibling rivalry between young children. When used correctly for any disagreement between children, siblings soon learn valuable skills of negotiation and conflict resolution and parents learn to see the value in letting these squabbles play out with minimal interference.

When sportscasting, remember:

  1. Stay calm (unruffled as Janet would say)
  2. Choose your words carefully. State facts without opinion
  3. There are no victims or perpetrators
  4. Keep your tone unbiased and unemotional
  5. Allow pauses for processing
  6. Keep it simple/ brief and allow the children to conclude naturally themselves

You might also enjoy the following articles:

5 Benefits of Sportscasting Your Child’s Struggles ~ Janet Lansbury

The S Word – Toddlers Learning to Share ~ Janet Lansbury

Could NOT Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? ~ Peaceful Parents Confident Kids

I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too ~ Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury

The World's Best Kept Secret for Managing Sibling Rivalry ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

39 thoughts on “The Secret’s to Successfully Sportscasting my Children’s Squabbles

  1. eross

    Thank you for this post! I am mom to a 3.5 yr old and a 21 month old, and have very recently come across Janet Lansbury’s website. I’m reading it every spare moment I have, but I’m finding myself a little lost amidst all this new information in a short amount of time. This post has very specific advice and very specific scenarios about an issue we face daily in our home. While I do my best to absorb RIE philosophy and put it into action, I appreciate something like this- straight to the point! Thank you again! Elizabeth

  2. Jenny

    I am really curious about the RIE philosophy of not intervening when one child takes a toy away from another. What about if one child is older and stronger? The younger of the two is pre-verbal, smaller, and not as strong. I don’t want the younger one to get pushed around, and he cannot stand up for himself yet. Would you really continue to permit the older one to grab toys from the younger without intervening?

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Hi Jenny, this was something I too have struggled with. When my sharing issues began my youngest was about 10 or 11 months and my oldest just turned 2. I found it very difficult to get past the inequity between the struggles. Even now, the battles are one sided and my eldest normally always comes off best.
      There are two things that I rely on to keep me from intervening. The first is that young children (especially under 1 year) don’t have a concept of fairness, justice or even sharing. it is developmentally appropriate for them to take toys and have toys taken from them as a part of their play and social development. Even if they become upset from the act, they are learning to deal with loss as well as the beginnings of conflict resolution.
      The second thing is that, the more I step back and allow these uneven altercations to run their course, the more I am seeing the oldest learn her own concept of fairness and without feeling pressured will often return the toy once she realises the youngest is upset and really would like it through effective sportscasting.
      Just today, Penny was playing with a little figurine (which does happen to be Lucy’s) when Lucy spotted it and made a screaming beeline for it. Penny tried to defend it but was no match for her determined (much stronger sister). I sportscasted throughout the ordeal which resulted in Penny crying and Lucy running out of the room with the toy. Within 15 secs of me saying something like “Penny, you really wanted that toy. You are upset”. Lucy came running up the hallway, back into the room with it exclaiming ‘you can have it back now, Penny.’
      I am not sure what ages your children are but give it time and trust that they have their own inherent goodness that will ultimately prevail. I have attached a link to another article I wrote a while ago. Best of luck with and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like any further information.

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  18. tiffany

    This post is very useful – my husband and I are struggling with sportscasting at the moment, mostly because, as you have mentioned, we’re putting too much interpretation into it (since it’s pretty clear that MASSIVE injustices are happening!)

    I still have some questions. I wonder if you or the community have any tips:

    1. Our kids have a 2 year age difference, they are 1y4m and 3y4m. There’s a huge difference in their physical abilities and also in their abilities to understand situations (and our sportscasting). Are we starting off too young? At what age is it really fair to expect them to sort it out themselves?

    2. The idea is to let grabbing happen, but what if it’s clear that the grabbing is an act of malice designed to hurt? Is it ok to tell my son we can’t let h grab like that because it hurts? (Hard to do this one because I’m probably not looking in time)

    3. I worried that the detached tone of sportscasting, especially when my daughter is really hurt or upset, could damage my relationship with her. Of i look at it through her eyes I see her parents allowing her brother to get away with a lot of unfair behaviour, I see her brother winning every single time. How does that feel? Why would she trust us?

    4. In the heat of the moment my kids aren’t listening to my sportscasting and often I’d have to shout to be heard. Is that normal? How do I make myself heard while still remaining calm and collected?

    By the way I have ordered 2 of the books you’ve recommended already, still waiting for them to arrive though…


  19. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

    Hi Tiffany, it does take a while to get your head around sportscasting. Keep at it though as it does get easier. I found signs around the house with example wording helped me in the early days to step me through the process. I could also revise during peaceful periods.

    1. It is never too early to start sportscasting. Even if your youngest doesn’t fully grasp the concepts he’s still being sent the message that you trust that she is capable of working things out with her brother. You could give her some words to use like “If you are not finished with that you can tell big brother you will give it to him when it’s done.” You could also remind big brother that if he would like to play with something little brother has, he can say “When you are finished using xyz, can please have a turn.” I did this when the girls were still getting used to and learning how to negotiate. I would say.”L it seems you would really like to have what P has. She doesn’t quite seem finished yet. P, when you are done, could you please let L know as she would like a turn.” We also role played during calm moments, using modelling and repetition to help the children learn some helpful words to use when they have a disagreement.

    2. How do you know it is a malicious act designed to hurt? If it seems like the act is being done in anger or as a way to express anger, I would acknowledge “X you seem angry at moment. How can I help? I won’t let you hurt Y. Would you like a cuddle or would you like to get some of that anger out on a pillow?” Remember it is tough being a big brother. It is normal for him to feel resentment and these acts of aggression are the only way he knows how to communicate his own pain. Support him, help him, acknowledge him. He doesn’t want to hurt his sister. He wants you to stop him but he needs to feel understood. “It’s hard being a big brother sometimes. Do you sometimes wish Y wasn’t here? I understand. It’s normal to feel this way. Remember that no matter what happens or what you do, I will always love you and want to help you.”

    3. I know that feeling well! Firstly, what you are telling her is. You are strong. I trust you. You are not a victim. You do not need me to fight your battles. Always acknowledge her feelings in the same way I described for your son above. Secondly, you don’t need to use a detached tone when sportscasting. You can use some expression in your voice that portrays the empathy that you feel for both of them. Remember that even the aggressor is in need of empathy. He doesn’t want to hurt or cause pain but he doesn’t yet have the tools to do otherwise.

    4. Don’t shout over them. Talk normally even if you are not being heard. They will feel your presence and know they are safe.

    You got this!!

    Let me know how you get on!

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  23. avriesa

    Thank you for this! I just recently found out about respectful parenting, and only started my first day of slowly transforming the way i see and interact with my children (20mo & 4y5mo) and how to act on sibling conflict. In my first day of sportscasting already i see sides of my children’s personality that amazes me. I believe they really are kind at heart, we just have to let them find that out on their own, in their own pace, and not interfere them in doing what comes natural for them 🙂

    However, i have a case that i haven’t found in any of example cases in this site (or did i miss it?), and i was wondering if you could help me with this..

    In my house, sometimes it’s not a thing or toy that they’re fighting over, but me. They frequently both need me at the same time, and they’ll fight over it (me :D) how do i sportcast and act in this situation, from a respectful parenting point of view?
    Thanks for any input 🙂


    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      Hi Avriesa,

      That’s fantastic that you are finding sportscasting helpful. When your children are fighting over you, I would crouch down to their level and hold one each side of you but away from your body. I would sportscast “I can see you both want me to hold you at the moment. I can’t hold you both at the same time. Then hold them away from you acknowledging their cries and frustrations whilst blocking any attempts at hitting etc.

      If they are being persistent, you can walk away and let them know you need to do xy and z and that once you are done you will spend some time with each of them.

      How much one on one time do you give them? Sometimes, when they are doing this it is because their attention buckets are not full and they are seeking connection.

      Kate xx

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