If you have more than one child, chances are good to excellent that you’ve had to referee sibling conflicts and rivalry. Fact is, even the best sibling relationships can have their moments of discord and friction.
But with a little insight and patience, a much more peaceful home and sibling harmony can be achieved. When a good sibling bond is established early, and children are taught how to manage conflict with their brother or sister, fighting and rivalry can be greatly minimized. Once children learn how to work through their differences, this very important family bond can flourish and grow strong.
Common Causes of Sibling Conflict
First, try to understand why sibling conflict may occur. Each skirmish may be set off by something different -- say a fight over whose turn it is to sweep the floors or who gets to decide what TV show or movie to watch -- but the root cause may be a bigger issue.
In some cases, the problem may be a clash of personalities. In others, it may be unresolved feelings of rivalry. For instance, a child may feel like mom or dad favors his sibling. Another child may feel resentful because she thinks she doesn’t get to do as much because she is younger. Or one sibling may simply like things to be quieter and calmer while the other one is all about action and adventure.
How to Handle Sibling Fighting
Whatever the cause, it’s important that parents do what they can to foster a good relationship between siblings, and make sure that any conflicts do not damage their relationship. Here’s what parents can do to help:
- First, teach kids how to handle conflict in a positive manner. Children who are taught how to manage disagreements in a constructive manner -- say, by listening to their sibling’s point of view or not engaging in name-calling -- will be in a much better frame of mind to settle disputes and move past fighting. Another bonus: Children who grow up learning how to prevent and work out conflicts with their siblings will be better at negotiating and working out compromises in future relationships, both at work and at home. Learning how to handle disputes with their brothers and sisters will help children grow into adults who are skilled at resolving differences and are better at managing relationships with others.
- Cast sibling harmony as important for the whole family. Explain to your children that your family is like a team. And like any good team, everyone -- mom, dad, and the kids -- need to work together to have a peaceful and loving home. Any fights among family members can hurt the whole team, or the family.
- Step in. Some parents may mistakenly believe that it’s best to let kids handle conflict on their own. That can be true to a certain extent, as long as children have the tools to manage disagreements in a constructive, positive, and peaceful way. But if the argument gets heated or there is verbal or physical aggression, intervene immediately. If you’re not there to see the argument, sit down with them and talk about what happened, and make it clear that aggression of any kind is not acceptable in your home.
- Listen to each side. There will be two sides to each story in a sibling fight. Let each child feel like he or she is being listened to, without judgment or interruption. Often, children feel much better after venting to mom or dad about a problem, especially when they feel that they can state their position and it will be heard fairly.
- Make respect a non-negotiable rule. This means no name-calling and absolutely no hitting or other physical aggression. Also encourage your children to really listen to the other’s side of things and give them the respect they would like for themselves.
- Encourage kids to get specific and state the problem. Tell your child to focus on what she is upset about, rather than on her sibling. For instance, if your child is upset that her brother likes to always choose what game they’ll play, she should state the problem rather than saying something like, “You’re not being fair!” By being specific about the problem (having an equal say in choosing the games) rather than focusing on a sibling’s behavior, the discussion can become more about the problem and solution, rather than their characterization of each other.
- Ask the children to suggest some solutions. Have your children come up with some scenarios or resolutions that will be fair for both sides. Encourage them to put themselves in the other person’s shoe before making suggestions.
- Model good problem-solving behavior. Children watch and learn from parents, and take our cues on how to settle conflict from how we handle problems with our spouse, friends, and family. If we are respectful and loving, and clear about our feelings and thoughts during a disagreement, our children will learn and adopt those conflict resolution skills themselves.