Sibling Battles

It was sometime in college when I realized how much I appreciated my brothers. I realized how much I enjoyed spending time with them and how well we connected. The years leading up to that realization were not always so rosy. Like almost all siblings, we had our fair share of battles.

If you have more than one child, its safe to say that your home is often a battleground for sibling conflicts.  When the emotions start rising, you have two major choices:

Option #1 You can intervene and restore the peace. This is often our instinct as parents. We have no desire to listen to our children fight and we are fairly confident (or hopeful) that we can find a solution to make everyone happy again. However, when we step in, we are taking away from our children the possibility of them learning skills in the midst of conflict – problem solving, negotiating, compromising, conflict management, and more.

The reality is that children typically hope that their parents will step in. It’s much easier on them if mom or dad takes over the crisis. Their anger will likely turn toward the parent as a decision is made, but since that parent has stepped into the fray, it’s now the parent’s job to make everyone happy. The kids are off the hook beyond making sure their parents understand their side of the story. The children’s problem has now become the parent’s problem.

Option #2 You can leave it in your children’s hands to work out the dispute. This often goes against our natural inclination as parents and takes some strategy. However, in the long term, this is the preferred option giving your children the opportunity to develop some great skills as they navigate the conflict.

Disclaimer:  If a child is about to be pounded by another child, you definitely need to step in and prevent that from happening. Most of the time there may be tears, but there won’t actually be any shedding of blood.

Strategy tip A: When one of both of the children come to you to solve the dispute, say something like, “I have confidence that the two of you can work this out on your own. You two need to figure out a way to solve this. Let me know what you come up with!”

If your children are used to you stepping in and fixing things, you can bet you are going to get some serious push back when you first try this.

Strategy tip B: Don’t let them argue in a place that causes your head to ache! Say something like, “If you are going to continue to yell to try to work out your problem, you are going to need to do that in the basement. If you would like to use normal voices as you work this out, you are free to stay upstairs.”

This may lead to you needing to send the kids to the basement if volumes stay loud and a  renewed attempt by the children to draw you back in, but you need to resist that pressure. Remind them of your confidence in their problem solving abilities.

Strategy tip C: If your children are not at a point where they can work out the dispute (maybe they are too young or they have never done this before), then you may need to step in at first to help them come up with some options. You could say something like, “We are going to come up with 3-4 ways we could solve this, and then you two can decide which is best.” You will want to make sure you insert at least one option that they hate, for example, donate the disputed toy to Goodwill. This will give them practice in eliminating an option and hopefully get them going in the right direction. The key is that you need to make sure they are still taking ownership of the final decision. This helps them learn that this is their problem, not your problem.

Final Disclaimer: I’m a parent living in the real world, so I want to make sure I’m realistic. There will be times when you as a parent need to move in and end a conflict before it escalates. Most of the time I want my children to have the opportunity to learn from navigating conflict, but sometimes I just need to be firm and end it. Just make sure that if you make a threat (like taking the toy away) you are ready to follow through on it and deal with the repercussions, otherwise you are creating more problems than you are solving.

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