Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Saturday | February 16, 2013
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Let's Talk Life - Fighting siblings
Dear Counsellor,

I have two sons who are always arguing and fighting. How can I improve the situation?

- Maureen

Dear Maureen,

Sibling relationships last a lifetime. Sibling rivalry can be stressful for parents just as it is for children. All parents want their children to be good friends. Sometimes parents wonder if the children will ever outgrow the fighting.

Sibling rivalry is natural. Siblings must share space, time, toys, and parents. Children aren't born with the ability to get along. Sharing and working out differences are skills they must learn. It will take many years for them to learn to share and cooperate. You are their most important teacher.

Should you step in or ignore the arguing? It is a difficult balance. Stepping in may be necessary sometimes, but it can also confuse the matter. When you step in, you decide how to solve the conflict. In the future, your children may call on you to be the judge. They may not even try to work out their disagreement on their own.

Your attention also may become a prize in their battles. They may argue more, knowing that their raised voices will get your attention.

It is difficult for parents to turn their backs on yelling and name calling. You may worry that your children will hurt each other physically or with harsh words. On one hand, you don't want your attention to encourage arguing. On the other hand, you do want to help your children learn to get along.

You can give your children skills to work out their problems by themselves by teaching them conflict resolution. Teach conflict resolution during a calm time. Set ground rules. Ask the children to help. Some important rules may include no hitting, kicking, or pinching, no name calling, no yelling and no tattling.

Set consequences for broken rules. Ask your children to help you come up with fair and logical consequences. Talk to the children about their feelings. Encourage your children to solve their problems by thinking of alternatives to fighting or yelling and the consequences of these alternatives.

Stick to the ground rules that you and the children have chosen. Hold children equally responsible. Give reminders. Praise your children when they use their new skills.

Don't compare children. Don't start competition. Encourage respect. Praise your children when they are polite and considerate. Show your children how you solve problems. If you express your feelings and solve problems by talking rather than yelling, your message will be that much stronger. Your children will learn from watching you and listening to you.

Notice when conflicts occur. Is there a pattern? Conflicts are often more common when children are tired, hungry, bored, or have spent too much time together. Providing quiet time or private spaces where children can safely be by themselves may help to prevent conflict.

You don't have to treat children the same to be fair. Celebrate differences. Often, siblings will try different activities as a way of showing their individuality. Try to encourage your children to build their special talents so that they will have less need to compete. It is important to let your children know that they are special - just for who they are.

Sibling rivalry is inevitable. To help minimise its negative effects, you should treat each child as a unique individual by meeting his needs as fairly and consistently as possible and giving each child separately the attention that he needs.

Email questions and feedback for Dr Yvonnie Bailey-Davidson to yvonniebd@hotmail.com or call 978-8602.

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