If you have children, then you have sibling arguments. Why do siblings fight? And what don’t they fight about? The reality is siblings argue over most things including who is going to get their flu shot first. Sounds crazy right? As parents, we’ve seen those types of absurd arguments take place. Kids fight when they’re stuck in the house on rainy days, on vacation, in the car, walking home from school, or just because. The list goes on and as parents it’s extremely frustrating and disappointing. Those images of your children blissfully playing together or cheering one another on often seem like a fantasy. So, what is a parent to do?
An observational research study noted arguments between siblings can occur as often as eight times a hour. Why so often? Sibling rivalry is typically at the root of conflicts between brothers and sisters. All parents have seen sibling rivalry in action. It comes in different forms. Think name-calling, tattling, hiding a favorite toy, poking, or the always annoying “he’s looking at me wrong”. If you have more than one child, it is important to come to grips with the fact that they are going to argue. Many factors come into play with sibling rivalry including birth order, personality, changes in the home, and age. There is hope though. While sibling rivalry never really goes away, it does tend to decrease with age according to Professor Mark Ethan Feinberg from the Penn State University. Feinberg stated in an article on sibling rivalry for the New York Times, that battles tend to level off in the teen years and peak during the preschool, elementary, and tween years.
There is of course no hard and fast reason as to why siblings choose to throw down over such seemingly silly things. Sometimes arguments erupt over boredom. Annoying a sibling can be entertaining. Starting an argument with a sibling garners attention. It doesn’t matter if the attention is negative. The reaction from the sibling and parents is still attention. According to the Center for Parental Education, other reasons siblings fight include trying to get a sibling in trouble to gain favor or to exert power.
Are your children learning life lessons from all of the squabbles with their siblings? The simple answer is yes. As hard as it is to hear your children constantly at each other’s throats, they are learning valuable life lessons like compromising, negotiating, conflict resolution skills, and assertiveness. As a parent, the urge is to jump right in when battles erupt, but the reality is it’s sometimes better to sit back and let the argument play out.
Regardless of age differences, siblings are going to fight. It doesn’t matter if your children are close in age or have years in between. It’s important to know when to step in and when to let children handle the conflict on their own. If the arguments are typical and haven’t escalated, cast a watchful eye, but stay out of it. When conflicts begin to become heated with harsh words or physical interactions, it is time to become involved. Physical or emotional abuse at the hands of a sibling is never okay.
In order to help manage the sibling battleground, it’s vital to have house rules when it comes to dealing with conflicts. Helping children to understand and apply the rules starts with modeling by parents and caregivers. Ground rules that are helpful in managing sibling conflicts include:
- Talking without raised voices
- No name-calling
- No hitting, kicking, or punching
- No tattling to get a sibling in trouble
- No taking a sibling’s possessions without asking
- Being respectful
Another way to help navigate the challenging world of sibling conflicts is to help them learn how to resolve issues. Like modeling ground rules, kids learn how to fight fair by observing parents and caregivers. When a child is angry at a sibling, teach them to count to ten, take deep breaths, or step away to calm down before attempting to settle a dispute. Showing siblings how to listen to each other is another important coping skill that can diffuse arguments before they escalate. When a fight is heated, help kids to take a moment to settle down before each sibling shares their feelings regarding the situation.
The Center for Parent Education offers parents additional suggestions on how to mitigate those inevitable arguments.
- Remove the object the siblings are fighting over.
- When siblings are constantly getting on each other’s nerves, separate them, but without punishment.
- Don’t condone tattling.
- Try and make any consequences fit the situation. For example, if the argument is over who gets to sit up front, neither one does.
- Don’t compare children or show favoritism.
If you have more than one child, there are going to be conflicts. While you are never going to completely eliminate sibling arguments, there are ways to lessen it. Stay out of the conflicts that are harmless and avoid rewarding tattling. Don’t try to force your children to be friends. Perhaps that relationship will evolve over time. Instead, focus on teaching siblings to respect one another and their feelings. Set up house rules for everyone to follow. Doing so helps teach kids how to resolve issues in a positive way.
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