Two Key Points in Handling Sibling Rivalry

As a parent of siblings, I am lucky that my daughter is a peacemaker.  Her observant way of being in the world allows her to understand her younger brother, who is a ball of emotion.  However, there are days in our home when our daughter loses her impressive patience, and the two end up in a fight.  As a parenting and child development expert, I generally know how to handle these moments of rivalry, but as a parent I understand how excruciating and off putting they can feel.  

Here are some things to keep in mind the next time your siblings fight:

The most important point:  if no one is bleeding, try not to take sides.  This is easier said than done because being able to listen to both sides of the story, like a judge in court, is time consuming.  Also, as parents, whether we admit it or not, we have a predisposition for saving one child over the other. This is because we tend to side with those we understand and feel akin to.  Keep your judge stance and allow each of the children to explain their position.  Listen to them carefully and then render your verdict.  If you are able to do this, you will be helping your children learn conflict resolution, how to express their anger/frustration in a calm way, and the beginnings of insight into their actions and how it affects others.   If your children are younger than 3.5, it may be hard for them to express their sides.  In that situation, narrate what you think happened, how they each may be feeling and how you would like them to resolve it.

Second point:  try to stay out of it as much as possible.  If you have little ones make sure to assume this stance early.  When you hear them begin to disagree, pause, listen and wait to see how they work it out; if they can’t then follow the instructions above.  For older children, be clear to them in quiet moments or as part of a family discussion that you expect them to solve their problems with each other first before they ask you to get involved.

If you are already getting involved and it is a habit for them to scream, “Mom, Susy is…”, then introduce the new rule.   Let them know that you trust them and know that they can resolve their problems with one another just like they would at school or when you are not around.  There is a possibility that you will have to practice the “judge stance” a few times before they get it, but continue to push them towards taking care of the conflict themselves.  Again, this is an important milestone in character development for children and a skill that they can use anywhere.

Conflict is never easy.  Sibling conflict can be particularly trying, but it can be handled with time, a bit of love and impartial judgment from you, the parent.

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