School Starters Out into the World : Brothers and Sisters Sibling rivalry (part 2) - Fighting between siblings A constant battle or beneficial?

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Fighting between siblings A constant battle or beneficial?

Eighty percent of us have brothers and sisters. Within this common and familiar relationship runs the whole gamut of human emotions, from murderous hatred to fawning adoration and, in between, considerable ambivalence. All of these emotional responses cause parents a great deal of worry and present them with distressing management challenges. In fact, research looking at children’s reactions to seeing their baby brother or sister upset shows that it is normal for children to show a range of emotions from being upset themselves, to not being affected at all, to being delighted at the baby’s distress, with some even trying to make them more upset! The bottom line is that rivalry and conflict between brothers and sisters is normal and inevitable.

Practice for later life

Sibling rivalry is a perfect opportunity for children to practice conflict resolution. Given that they live together, some resolution has to be found: They cannot walk away from this situation. In an argument, each child needs to be able to state his case and stand his ground. He needs to learn to say how he feels and what he wants. Finally, he must negotiate terms of ceasefire or surrender, and an end to the conflict. Your son or daughter is learning an important lesson about how to understand, manipulate and dominate, comfort and appease another person. It is better, therefore, for parents to intervene as little as possible, and allow these skills to be developed and honed in this relatively safe environment.

Factors affecting conflict

The closer in age siblings are, the more likely there is to be keen competition between them and an increased risk of conflict. Same-sex siblings tend to fight more. The younger the siblings are, the more likely it is that they will come to blows. Sometimes the rage and frustration can be overwhelming, especially for a toddler who does not have the verbal ability to hold his own against an older sibling. But it can be equally galling for an older sibling who is expected to treat his destructive younger sibling with special tolerance.

All getting along?

To prevent situations from reaching boiling point, there are important measures that parents can take to promote sibling harmony. It is important to be fair; not to make your children compete for your time and attention; not to favor one over the other; to model harmonious, respectful relationships with your partner, your own family and brothers and sisters; not to “guilt trip” one, often the oldest, about fighting with his sibling; and, very importantly, to make a big show of your approval when they are cooperating and playing nicely together. Parents will need to set rules about hitting and hurting each other and about breaking property. They also need to enforce these rules. They can make it clear that they understand each child’s position and sympathize with their dilemmas, but that they do not approve of aggressive or destructive behavior.

Last resorts

When it gets extreme, and warnings have been given but the rules have still been broken, parents will need to intervene. At this point, you still have an opportunity to encourage some non-violent resolution, such as taking turns. If all else fails, the best course of action is to keep calm, remove the source of conflict, and apply normal consequences for unacceptable behavior. These consequences could include being sent to sit on a “time-out step” or having the toy or object they are fighting over removed for ten minutes or so. Make sure that any consequences are immediate and brief, since at this age children have little self-control. Next time, the warring parties may be more likely to find their own resolution.

Fighting and making up

Younger children are more likely to fight, especially if they are the same sex or similar in age. However, battles, although frequent, will probably be short-lived at this age.

Conflict resolution

Although it is best to allow your children to find solutions to their own squabbles, you may have to step in occasionally to model good behavior or apply consequences.

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