How many times do parents hear one of their kids screaming something like this: “Daaad! Brian won’t stop picking on me! Make him stop!”
And then Brian whines, “No I didn’t! Lisa started it! Why do I always get blamed for everything around here?”
Does this sound familiar? Do you ever feel as though your kids act more like hungry alley cats ﬁghting over the last mouse in town than the loving sibs you’d hoped they’d grow to be? You are not alone!
What’s a parent to do when the kids are at each other’s throats and the living room looks like ﬁnals at the international wrestling championship? The ﬁrst step toward success is understanding some of the reasons why siblings bicker and ﬁght. Why is it that our children—our ﬂesh and blood—often go for ﬂesh and blood?
Let’s ﬁrst recognize that sibling conﬂicts are generally a pretty typical and normal part of family life. In fact, one might argue that these conﬂicts are good training for life. That is, by negotiating childhood conﬂicts with their brothers or sisters, our kids learn valuable skills for getting along with others in the real world.
For this learning to happen, the following must take place in the home:
Another reason siblings ﬁght is because it gets them attention and control. When parents yell or lecture to determine “who started it,” to get their kids to “knock it off,” or to get their children to “say sorry and shake hands,” the parents are doing more thinking and worrying than the kids!
Soon the children learn on an unconscious level that they can control the color of their parents’ faces, the volume of their voices, their reserves of emotional energy, and the potential longevity of their cardiovascular systems.
And have you ever noticed how your kids tend to start a ﬁght just as you start talking on the phone or start a quiet conversation with your spouse? What better way to control your parents?
Fortunately, parents can do three things to keep their children from learning these unhealthy patterns:
A third reason siblings ﬁght is because one child in the family feels that the parents or other adults see him or her as being the “black sheep” of the family. He or she reasons on an unconscious level, “I’ll never be as good as my brother. Everybody thinks he’s so smart ... He’s such a goody-two-shoes ... I hate him!”
In most cases, the child doesn’t really hate his or her sibling. Instead, he or she hates the feeling of not measuring up in the eyes of the parents. The parents may not view the child in this manner. Nevertheless, the most important point is that the child “feels” it to be so.
Parents and teachers can do two things to help avoid this problem:
Help all of your children learn that everyone is different, and that everyone has something positive to contribute.
A fourth reason has to do with much more serious and dangerous types of problems. In rare instances, one or more children in the family—or the entire family—are experiencing such severe emotional distress that the rivalry has become dangerous.
What’s a parent to do if he or she sees this happening with children? Here are some suggestions:
Once we’ve gotten a handle on what might be causing rivalry and conﬂicts between our children, it’s time to take action! Recently, I received a letter from a mom who was using Love and Logic. It read something like this:
Dear Dr. Fay,
I’m writing this letter to tell you about my two sons. Mike is eight and Eric is ten. They used to argue and ﬁght constantly, and my husband and I were about to pull our hair out. Then one night we decided to use some Love and Logic.
This night, near the end of December, our boys wanted to go camping in the front yard. They wanted to set up their tent and pretend. Since it’s been in the twenties and thirties at night lately, I told them they could set up their tent in the living room or the basement instead.
Boy, did this ever start a ﬁght! Eric wanted to camp in the basement, but Mike wanted to camp in the living room.
My husband and I decided to stay out of it and let them work it out. They did! Mike gave in to Eric, and they both ran off to the basement to arrange their campsite. About 2:00 in the morning we heard a horrible sound. Eric and Mike ran into our bedroom pushing and shoving.
Eric screamed, “Mom! Daaad! Mike bit me!” Then he held up his arm. No blood, but some slight teeth marks.
Mike started screaming too. “He started it! He started it!”
My husband and I were so frustrated we felt like strangling them. Instead, I remembered to use sadness instead of anger. I also remembered that it is okay to delay a consequence until you have a plan.
I looked at my boys and said, “Oh no, guys. Bad decision waking us up. Guess your father and I will have to do something about this tomorrow. Try not to worry about it.”
It was great! I’d never seen them look so confused. Then my husband said, “Go ahead and ﬁght somewhere that won’t keep us awake.”
When the boys continued to argue, I said, “The longer you keep us awake, the sadder it’s going to be for you tomorrow.”
The next morning, both of them came to us and asked what we were going to do. My husband told them they could take the day to think about how they might make it up to us by doing some chores.
During dinner that evening, I could tell both of them were about to explode. Finally, they couldn’t take it any longer and told us they wanted to wash our cars to make up for the problem.
My husband said, “That’s a start. Throw in cleaning the bath-tubs and toilets and we have a deal.” The funniest thing was that the boys actually looked relieved!
Now, when the boys start ﬁghting, we just look at them and say something like, “This is so sad. I wonder if you’ll need to do some chores to pay us back for all this noise and hassle.”
It’s amazing how quickly they stop arguing. This doesn’t always work. But that’s good, because then I get a break from some of my chores! Sometimes I even ﬁnd myself looking forward to their ﬁghts.
A Happier Mom
People who are really successful implementing this skill purchased Sibling Rivalry
©Charles Fay, Ph.D.
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