My 11- and 13-year old daughters have been saying really unkind and rude things to each other when they disagree about something (anything). I have talked with them together & separately about this as it is very much against our family values to be unkind to anyone, much less one's own family. I have required essays about the inappropriateness of their words and about conflict resolution, and we have role-played the latter. I have required letters of apology to each other. I have required they say 3 kinds things about each other each time they are rude. And I've grounded them. They are still speaking unkindly to each other, just not so much in my presence (they have never learned how much of what they say I actually overhear). I have been matter-of-fact in dealing with this (so far) so as not to allow it to be turned into a way for them to annoy me.

A friend suggested giving them a spoonful of vinegar (plain white) and requiring it be held in the mouth for a minute before swallowing. I have checked online and found that it would be perfectly safe to swallow several tablespoons of vinegar over the course of a day, for several days (I trust this will do the trick and soon put a stop to this behavior). I also found that this would be safe for tooth enamel if rinsed within a few minutes (which I'm sure they won't have trouble remembering to do, lol).

What I would like are some additional suggestions. I will not consider a hot sauce; I want an unpleasant experience, not a painful one, that can be quickly administered and then we move on. I did consider corner time, but for that to be effective at their age requires 30 minutes or more, which is just too long (disruptive to family time, for instance).

Further Developments: I started with the vinegar over the weekend. Each time one of them says something rude or unkind, she is required to get the vinegar, a dinner spoon (not a little teaspoon) and a kitchen timer, and bring them to me (or her daddy, if he's the one who is around). I set the timer for a bit over 1 minute, fill the spoon with vinegar and give it to her (like medicine). She must remain right in front of me until the timer goes off, so I can ensure she holds the vinegar in her mouth for the full minute while she is lectured, after which she must swallow it. She then returns everything to the kitchen and may rinse her mouth out with water. There was much consternation the first time each one had this experience, and although that day was about as bad as before, there was a huge drop in the frequency on the second day.

However, perhaps there is some acclimation to the vinegar's sourness, because the third day leveled off (despite being a school day) and on the fourth day frequency began edging up again. Since I am heartily tired of dealing with this (I'm with them far more than their daddy is), I upped the ante. We warned them at bedtime on Day 4 that their behavior had stopped improving and that if this continued Mama would have to Get Creative, which they know from experience is something they would wish to avoid.

Since the morning of Day 5 involved a couple incidents, Mama Got Creative while they were at school. When they got home that afternoon and finished their chores, I put a sponge dampened with vinegar in some plastic wrap and fastened one to each of their shirt fronts so that it wouldn't leak on them, but was open at the top so they would smell the vinegar (I had ascertained that the fumes could be smelt but would not irritate the eyes). They were then required to stand in the corner for one half hour for each incident that morning (two "terms" for one daughter and three for the other). This is time that is normally theirs to relax (after chores), so the corner time did not interfere with family time, which is between supper and bedtime. I made sure to be frequently in and out of that room and always nearby, to monitor that they stayed put and didn't fiddle with the sponge, etc. It is also our practice to repetitively quiz the girls when in the corner as to why they are there, what behavior they should change to avoid chastisement in the future, etc., all as a means to keep their attention focused on why this is happening, rather than just daydreaming through the tedium. We will continue to give the vinegar immediately, but let the corner time accumulate from one evening through to the next afternoon, with time served before we eat (or whenever it is convenient for us parents). If corner time accumulates faster than they can serve it, they'll have all weekend (around our family plans, of course) to catch up. If nothing else, this should decrease the problem simply because they are not allowed to speak during corner time, except when responding to a direct question (the parental quizzing).

Following implementation of this they did manage to get through supper (I took pity on them and served a ranch salad dressing instead of my husband's favorite Italian, lol), a board game, and bedtime preparations without any name-calling, etc., so perhaps this multi-pronged approach is going to work. When they came to say good night we told them we were pleased with their self-control and obedience, and their daddy also talked about being teachable and submitting to correction, versus being stubborn and persisting in wrong-doing. He pointed out that since they had spent several hours in each other's company without any problem, it was apparent they were capable of watching what they said and choosing appropriate ways to communicate, but if they slacked off and began with the rudeness again, he and Mama would Get Creative Together, which they know is even worse than when Mama does it by herself.

asked 23 Sep '10, 20:52

kj's gravatar image

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edited 29 Sep '10, 20:35

This just occurred to me, how about a teaspoon of olive oil. Its harmless as far as I am aware, but the taste is yucky. Last winter I gave my daughter a cod liver oil supplement and she really hated the taste, so l definitely think it's unpleasant enough!

(25 Sep '10, 22:37) Emi

Isn't the constant bickering and snarking at this age enough to make you want to poke something pointy in your ears? I remember sooo well when my older sons and their cousins were that age.

I had been talking to a child psycologist about other issues we had then (grief related), and asked her what to do about it, in a nutshell, this is what I was advised:

  1. The bickering and fighting is often related to sibling rivalry, stay right out of it, if it's driving you crazy, send both of them to their rooms (or whatever punishment you use). If you even seem to be picking sides, it will get much, much worse.
  2. Name calling, put downs, and physical abuse, are all abuse. Deal with it immediately and deal with name calling the same way you would deal with someone that age throwing a punch. The people in your family do not abuse each other. No exceptions because someone was being a pain.
  3. Try to remember that being a pre-teen in incredibly stressfull, make sure they have ways to releave that stress that doesn't involve using their family members as a pressure valve. (And, honestly, haven't we all been guilty of that!)

If you think the vinegar thing will work, use it, they're your kids and you know them best, it isn't going to hurt them, just be an unpleasant reminder to keep a civil tongue in their heads.

If they get an allowance you might try something like a "swear jar", except they pay into it when they're mean to each other and you and your partner get to keep the money for date night. One of my friends and her husband had a couple of lovely times that their kids contributed to that way, and it worked pretty well for them.

It does get better, it sounds like you've given them the tools they'll need to craft a lifelong friendship. It just takes time and maturity, and the occasional parental intervention.

My older kids and their cousins never fight anymore and I never would have believed when they were that age that they would all be such great friends now. (Actually, at the time, I would have put good money on at least one of them being shoved off a very tall building by one of the others long before they learned to get along!)

It's sort of like they're pre-schoolers again, ignore the noise, deal with the real issues, and hang on tight to your patience. Good Luck!


answered 25 Sep '10, 16:44

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accept rate: 30%

From what I can find, it looks like you're right to be cautious about vinegar's effects on teeth. 21st Century Dental says that tooth erosion can begin at pH levels under 5.5. It has a chart which compares various liquids and shows the pH of vinegar to be around 2.40-3.40. According to the chart, many common sodas and citrus drinks are in the same pH range as vinegar so it sounds like advice regarding soda could also be applied to vinegar. The British Dental Health Foundation specifically warns against holding acidic drinks in your mouth and suggests waiting at least one hour to brush your teeth after eating or drinking acidic food. Sound Medicine, a podcast from the Indiana University School of Medicine, has an interesting segment about sodas and tooth decay.


answered 23 Sep '10, 22:53

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Kiesa ♦
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In your second link it recommends following an acidic meal with cheese or milk. Good idea. However I am baffled as to how waiting an hour to brush facilitates the teeth replacing lost minerals. Rinsing with plain water still seems like the best solution.

(24 Sep '10, 19:28) kj

@kj I think the Sound Medicine podcast explains it more. The problem is if you brush your teeth before waiting an hour after acidic food your teeth haven't recovered from the experience yet. Brushing your teeth is abrasive so it's like sandpapering your teeth when they're more vulnerable and the brushing itself may damage the teeth. So, I think rinsing your mouth with water would be beneficial, just make sure they don't actually brush their teeth until the full hour is up.

(24 Sep '10, 20:04) Kiesa ♦

What you have to take into account is the Fluoride in the toothpaste. This helps strengthen the tooth enamel against acid based attacks. Which helps with all those carbonated drinks we all regularly enjoy.

(25 Sep '10, 14:06) brandstaetter

When I was about 3 I was in a pre-school for a while. I remember very little about it, but one thing that stuck in my memory was one of the teachers sitting everyone down, and then taking a bar of soap to the mouth of one little boy who wouldn't stop saying the F-word. She was obviously trying to make an example of him, and it certainly made an impression on me. I do remember the little boy kept cursing during the entire ordeal though, so I don't think it was effective on him.

Personally I wouldn't feel comfortable making my child forcibly ingest something (unless it was a life-saving medicine, of course). It seems like you'd be creating a traumatic memory, and I'm not sure you'd want that.

Something unpleasant should be enough. They'll associate rudeness -> something unpleasant happens. You can take stuff away, remove them from the situation, make them apologize... anything that's "unpleasant", as you said. I would try to use my imagination before resorting to causing physical discomfort (not that I wouldn't use it as a last resort).


answered 24 Sep '10, 09:56

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Thanks for the comments. I didn't think of soap because we used that for the same thing as your preschool teacher, and I just didn't think about this in the same way. It is, however, another option (except for the swallowing). I do think the "trauma" (which is obviously not on the same level as for a 3-y/o) of this sort of unpleasantness is far less than that of relationships damaged in the future if they cannot learn to control their rude speech.

(24 Sep '10, 19:23) kj

I saw you were adverse to the corner thing, but I think that's actually a pretty good idea. I understand it's disruptive but look at it this way.

In my experience, children that age are striving to be older, to be more mature, they see themselves growing up, and one of the worst things you can do is treat them like a child.

So you can approach it like this. You want to act like a child? I'll treat you like a child. Time in the corner? No problem. Phone? Babies can't use phones! I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

In my opinion physical discomforts like Vinegar, are the same as hot sauce, soap, wasabi paste, etc. They work for a minute, but they end up the same way. They just don't do it in front of you, or they develop an "immunity" to the punishment.

What I've found that works best is combining psychology with something they hate. In this case, combining the fact that they're acting like babies, with the fact that they want to "seem" like teenagers.

Good luck!!


answered 28 Sep '10, 00:20

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edited 28 Sep '10, 00:23

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Asked: 23 Sep '10, 20:52

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Last updated: 29 Sep '10, 20:35