Parenting Hack: Flip a Coin

My kids fight…quite a lot about quite a lot of things. I think this is mostly normal and natural. My brother and I fought…quite a lot about quite a lot of things. Happily, we never fight now (granted he lives in Denmark, so there is significant friction of distance, but I’m glad to report that when we manage to overcome the laws of geography, we generally get along quite peaceably).

Deep down, the kids are very attached to each other – weekend sleepovers are a must or wailing ensues. They can show great compassion for one another and are especially defensive if they sense their sibling has been mistreated by a peer.

This is all lovely, but back to the fighting for a minute. Most of these squabbles occur over the tiniest of things. Like who gets the spoons out of the drawer for the soup. Or who gets to pray before our meal (there has to be something deeply ironic about fighting about who gets to express gratitude – sigh). Or who gets to crack their own pepper first. Or who gets to unpause the movie – this is a big one.

You get the picture.

Last week I could sense a fight before it even started: who would get the red, fluted bundt pan and who would get the silver, round bundt pan for our wreath-making activity.

So we flipped a coin. Abby won and got the coveted red, fluted bundt pan (but then, hilariously and predictably they both decided they wanted the silver pan, so she ended up getting “stuck” with the now undesirable red bundt pan, but at least everyone was civil about it because the coin had decided, not a dictatorial mother).

I forget about this hack a lot, but we’ve used it to decide who picks the movie, who gets to choose the first slice of cake, and who gets to sit in the currently preferred booster seat.

This may not be a solution when they’re older and fighting over who gets to borrow the car. But, then again, maybe it will be?

Have you ever flipped a coin to level the playing field with your children or to expedite other forms of decision-making?

Header photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

24 thoughts on “Parenting Hack: Flip a Coin”

  1. No, I’ve never done this but I think it’s a brilliant idea. There’s no arguing with a coin flip- the coin made the decision, not you! My kids are six years apart, which has its pros and cons. Cons- they never really have been able to play with each other. In a way it’s like they’re both only children. BUT, a big pro is there wasn’t the bickering that comes with siblings closer in age. Every once in a while they would fight and it would make me crazy- but then I remind myself that my sister (two years younger) and I fought like that all the time- my poor mom!

    1. Again – I just can’t imagine life without kids that fight. Daily.
      My sister’s fought a lot as kids (and still fight as adults) – they are 18 months apart. My brother and I were 8 years apart but our fighting was all physical (like I would pester him and he would sit on me sort of thing). We fought lots, but it was different and less mentally taxing, I think, on my Mom. She would always say “Someone’s going to be crying at the end of this and I know who it’s going to be.” But other than that, she and my Dad mostly left us to sort out sibling issues on our own.
      Maybe because the kids have spent SO much time together over COVID, but it just feels like such a mental energy drain with the fighting. That said, they also are absolutely crazy for each other and so I’m trying to just let them be as much as possible (and realizing that some of the fighting is a likely a coping mechanism for being cooped up so much and not getting into squabbles with friends, for example, because of school closures etc)?

      Either way, the coin toss is definitely a handy tool for me these days.

  2. I have never done that but it sounds like it works well for you. My kids are less than 18 months apart, and, weirdly, almost never fight. Like, I can probably count the number of fights on one hand, and my oldest will be 18 in a couple of months. I don’t know if it’s because they are just so close in age or I just won the lottery or what. I shall not look that gift horse in the mouth, I tell you.

    1. Oh. my. goodness. My kids fight constantly! They are 3.5 years apart; not close enough to be very well-matched and not far enough apart that they just leave each other alone. And personality, obviously. I think that’s the biggest – two big leadership personalities which clash at every available occassion. But they have so much potential and I think some of their headstrong ways will end up being their biggest strengths when they get older (at least this is what I keep telling myself).

      I can’t even imagine what life without squabbling kids would feel like, but congrats to you! That really is wonderful. This reminds me of a bank advisor we used to have who said her teenager had only vomited once in his life. I nearly fell off my chair. For the first 5 years or so any bug my kids caught resulted in buckets of barf.

  3. I just have the one, so no need for the coin flip, but I can definitely recognize the genius! Perhaps I can allow the unbiased coin to make decisions in other ways… Hmmm. Bedtime or ten more minutes of play time? One more chapter or lights out? Go outside and enjoy the snow or do a craft? Apple or banana? Surely my kid can’t argue with a COIN.

    1. If a kid would argue with a coin, I feel like mine might…but I have used a coin for solo decisions before with good impact. It’s worth a shot. If nothing else, there is something whimsical and fun about doing a coin-flip!

  4. Ha ha! Sibling dynamics are so interesting. My sister and I are both in our 40s and yet we still act like teenagers the second we get together. She cheats at games, I get angry, and my mom tries to be Switzerland. I wonder if she knows the coin flip trick?

    1. Oh this comment made me laugh. This reminds me of my sisters (down to the games and arguing immediately upon getting together). And “my Mom tries to be Switzerland” cracked me up the most.
      Sibling dynamics, indeed!

  5. Another household with no fighting here. My children are 4.5 years apart in age. When they were really little I had to intervene with play when they were too young to be able to do this for themselves, but fighting? Nah. They are 12.5 and 17 now and still get on really well, they mostly sit and chat when they are together which is a lot less now that eldest is at college. I have home educated them both so had them at home together for 12 whole years and I feel so blessed to have been able to do that. If they were disagreeing about things, when they were younger, I would ask one in turn to talk through each side of the ‘story’ whatever that was, they listened to each other and I would help them through to a resolution. This happened very rarely. As they got older they stopped needing me to help them with that and I now hear my eldest doing the same when he is playing online with friends and there has clearly been a disagreement. It seems to have given them some useful skills for life.

    1. Wow! I’m so impressed with the households that manage to avoid sibling rivalry/fights. Definitely not our reality.
      I think “fighting” is a strong word to use for what we have – more like bickering and/or pushing buttons, but a low-level angst between siblings is definitely present. I do think it has been worse since COVID and I can understand that as both kids get older but don’t necessarily have some of the same freedoms as pre-COVID.
      It’s wonderful when siblings get along well – for everyone involved. I feel like I do most of the “right” things to promote harmony, but think the primary factor here is personality conflicts (or overlap of some of the same dominant personality tendencies). I remember reading somewhere about how siblings learn a lot about conflict resolution from disagreements with their siblings which can then transfer to their peers. I’ve tried to take some comfort in that with the level of bickering they have – but all the better if they learn these skills WITHOUT bickering.

      Also, as I’ve said before and in other comments – my kids are obsessed with each other. As much as they bicker/fight/disagree/push each others buttons, they love each other very much!

  6. Ok yeah I don’t understand the commenters who say their kids don’t fight… are they older now? Mine are almost 4 and 8 and they get into it all the time. I don’t think the coin toss would work, at least not yet, because usually the fight is not over an object, but a perceived slight. “She’s looking at me! She told me I can’t talk!” If you figure out this one, let me know 🙂

    1. Mine definitely fight and there are definitely LOTS of fights over slights. “She’s looking at me! She told me I can’t talk!” – could have come from my mouth verbatim.
      I don’t have all the answers for that, I admit. And a coin toss doesn’t necessarily work in this regard. BUT I think the kids are less likely to perceive things as slights if they don’t feel like someone else got to choose the bundt pan first.
      That said – to a certain extent, this is also life and I can’t make everything a random choice. One of my favourite sayings is: Fair doesn’t have to mean equal. My kids hate when I say this, but they know it off by heart. Sometimes one kid WILL get a special bedtime, but the other child likely got a special something earlier in the day. So I try to keep the peace as much as possible while realizing I can’t keep everyone happy and SHOULDN’T keep everyone happy at all times. At a certain point, they do have to live with things (especially as they get older) and life doesn’t always provide us with “equal.”

  7. A brilliant idea! I love making things impersonal in high-tension situations but hadn’t thought of this. Lately I’ve been relying a lot on the idea if deciding once. For instance, there has been perennial arguing over who gets to sit by baby brother on car rides. Solution: E gets all the rides in town, A and N get long drives (one on the way, the other on the way home). So far so good!

    1. This is genius! I don’t blame the girls – I would want to sit by M, too. Just think, if only he had been triplets, they could each have had a seatmate!
      Tell them the next time I drive with you, I call dibs on sitting by him…

  8. i was nodding all the way while reading this post. this is probably the part that I don’t like having more than 1 kid. I never had to fight with other kids when growing up but now my two girls who love each other and need each other more than I expected, fight ALL the time! We use slightly different strategy, paper scissor rock! 😀 the younger one used to ALWAYS lose but lately she’s winning sometimes. it’s not solve it all, but works in many occasions. I’ll try flip the coin next time.

    1. Ironically enough Levi and I were debating which type of hallway soccer to play the other night (I prefer taking shots on goal and he wanted to play a “game.”) His suggestion – we do rock, paper, scissors to decide. For the record, I won 2 sets of best-of-3, but we still ended up eventually playing a game.
      It’s comforting that you mention how much your kids love/need each other. This is 100% true in our family. I often say – “the best of friends, the bitterest of enemies.” The last bit isn’t completely true (bitter enemies is a bit of a stretch), but they really do love each other so much…yet bicker constantly.

  9. Our boys don’t fight yet because they are too young. Surely if Will was older, he would fight back against some of Paul’s behavior, like when he takes toys away from Will or when he pushes him over if Will gets too close to what he is doing! We are pretty sure Will is going to be bigger than Paul eventually so his time is coming!! I was 1 of 5 and we FOUGHT SO MUCH. I remember my mom asking that for her birthday or Mother’s Day that we not fight with each other. As adults, we mostly get along, although the 5 of us are so very different. There are some alliances between some siblings, and I get along better with some than others. I love them all, of course, but I would only say I am very close to my little sister who is 7 years younger than me. We have similar interests and personalities, and we are both raising babies right now while our older siblings have kids who are 9 to 17! I do hope our boys are great friends as they get older. I know it is not a given but it’s something I really wish for. But I know there will be years of fighting when they are younger, unless I luck out like some of the commenters above! But the base case expectation is for fighting to happen!

    1. I needed to hear this. A friend (who reads this blog) talked to me last night and said “I can’t believe some readers don’t have kids that fight!”
      I truly am glad for those people!! But my kids fight (and my siblings fought), and knowing that you were 1 of 5 and still fought lots makes me feel better too because I sometimes think “If only my kids had more siblings they would fight less” when chances are there would just be more fighting because there would be even more personalities to juggle?!
      It is what it is and it’s as old as time and I try not to fret about it, while trying to nip it in the bud when it spirals down overall household morale.

      1. I feel like the more kids you have, the more fighting happens because of all of the big personalities that tend to occur w/ a large family. With the exception of my younger sister, I have more differences than similarities to my older siblings. I actually don’t know how we came from the same 2 people. Genetics are mind blowing!! The MIL of a friend at work is entering hospice. Her husband comes from a big family with lots of different personalities and it is making for extra drama around the end of life process. My friend and I were talking about how we hope/think that it will be different for us when our time comes as we just have 2 children each. That’s not to say it’s not good to have a large family. I thought I would but know that even if I was younger, 2 kids would be plenty for us. But in my experience, more kids = more personalities = more conflict and drama! But maybe that is just my experience! But all this is the say that sibling fighting seems to be the norm and if you avoid it, you are freaking lucky!!!

        1. Good point. Personality is just so, so pivotal. Some families have very static/stable emotional frameworks and then others have people that are very passionate and/or attracted to taking leadership. I definitely come from a family (including extended family) with a mix of passive and aggressive and it can make for “interesting” conversations and experiences.

  10. Haha, way to defer the decision to a coin – I mean, really, these kind of decision should not fall on your shoulder, because you can only loose.

  11. This is an excellent option – and no, you really can’t argue with a coin the way you can with a mom. 🙂
    My parents used to use the “You split, I choose” method for dividing things. It also applied to things like games (you pick the game, I go first). Or, there was the option of one of us (there were only 2 of us, unlike in some families!) picking the first TV show for the night, and the other picking the 2nd show (or the next night’s show).

    My brother and I are only 14 months apart, which is awesome. We’ve always been fairly close but oh, we had our moments. Mostly of the “he’s looking at me!” variety, and most (sigh) instigated by me. My brother is much calmer by nature, despite being older, while I was always slightly more, um, high strung. 🙂

    I love that your kiddos sleep over in each other’s rooms, and that they defend each other against “outside” forces. That, plus the bickering? Looks like the foundation for a great sibling relationship…. once they get past nitpicking at each other. 😉

    1. Oh the nitpicking. It’s just…relentless some days. But they are also FIERCELY loyal. They have intense personalities, so I guess it makes sense…
      We like the “you split, the other chooses” option, too.

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