If your days are filled with settling disputes, tattling and mediating disagreements between your children, you are not alone. It is common for siblings to argue and disagree when living in such close proximity. However, you can minimize or put an end to sibling rivalry by uncovering the root of the problem, teaching your children to take responsibility for their actions and settling disagreements civilly.
Why Do Siblings Fight?
Despite what you may think, brotherly or sisterly love does exist, even if your children bicker with each other daily. It’s just sometimes difficult to see past the petty disagreements they have with each other.
According to Jamie Rishikof, Massachusetts-based psychologist, siblings fight because they are thrust into a situation that was not of their choosing. “They live together, face each other every day and have to share a multitude of things, from the most important to the mundane,” he says. “They have to share toys, TVs, the play room and later on the car and the house.”
More important than objects and material items, siblings have to share the love and attention of their parents. “Neither can feel like the sole center of their parents’ lives because they have to share that spot,” says Rishikof.
Siblings also fight because of personality differences. “Just because they came from the same genetics or environment does not in any way ensure they are compatible to cooperate or be friends,” says Rishikof. “Beyond that, even the best of relationships can be strained by living together and constantly negotiating conflicts.”
As your children develop emotionally and socially, they may also struggle with how to deal with conflict management, thus leading to sibling arguments and disagreements. “They are forced to live together from a young age, when it is likely one or both is not yet mature enough to resist impulsive reactions and step back and be more compromising,” says Rishikof. “So for any and all of these reasons, and the fact that there is usually not much opportunity to get a break from each other, sibling rivalry is pretty typical.”
Uncovering the Root of the Problem
As a parent or a nanny, you are often thrust in the middle of sibling rivalry when disagreements occur. In order to manage the conflict, it’s important to first uncover the root of the problem between the siblings.
Rishikof warns against pointing the blame finger right away when mediating arguments. “If a parent observes the whole interaction, he or she can usually be confident about who to blame, but if the parent is not in the room, it can be tempting to guess, but it is my opinion that is unwise,” he says. “Parents cannot be mind readers and they will get two pretty biased versions of the story.”
Instead of playing the blame game, Rishikof suggests parents or nannies take a “both or neither” mentality in these cases. “That way the siblings share responsibility for getting along or repairing when harm is done,” he says.
Parents and nannies should also accept that punishments and consequences can be tricky when biased versions of the story are presented. “Yes, in a single instance there is likely someone getting unjustly punished, but over time and multiple incidents, that is likely to even out,” says Rishikof. “And, it saves the parent the task of playing mind-reader and likely being manipulated by one of the kids.”
Beyond setting expectations for behavior and guidelines for consequences and punishments when your children fight, it may also help to open their eyes to the positive aspects of having a sibling around.
Phrases such as “you and your brother may argue, but if he was not around, who would you play with?” and “it is nice to have someone around when you are lonely, isn’t it?” may help your children see the value of a sibling’s presence.
Promote teamwork, cooperation and respect while encouraging responsibility in settling disagreements. Show your children that they must learn to settle conflicts among themselves by modeling the behavior that is expected in the family home. “The best parents can do is offer mutual rewards that are contingent on learning to settle conflicts among themselves,” says Rishikof. “This offers an incentive to appease the other sibling. The conflicts themselves are pretty unavoidable, but you can impact how they are handled.”