“A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.” an ancient quote proclaims.
Parents can derive much comfort from the universality of sibling rivalry. At the very beginning of time, the first two siblings, Cain and Abel, did not get along with each other, and as a result Cain killed his brother! Fortunately, we can rest assured (hopefully!) that our children are not about to murder their brother or sister. However, this reassurance provides little comfort in the face of constant bickering, teasing, and fighting.
What can we parents do to eliminate sibling rivalry?
In evaluating any behavior it is useful to examine the emotions and thoughts that precede the behavior, in order to fully understand and rectify the issue at hand.
What thoughts are likely to be occupying the mind of a mother or father whose children are fighting? Very often the parent takes responsibility for the children’s misbehavior and concludes that it is a personal failure in him or herself. The thought process travels along these lines: “If my child can behave in this manner, then it must be my fault, and therefore I am a failure as a parent.”
As a result of the parent’s feelings of inadequacy, the parent will try to “fix” the child, who rarely responds positively, and his behavior generally deteriorates further. As the parent becomes more enraged, he or she often becomes angry at the perceived cause of the feelings of incompetence – the child!
When parents allow themselves to correctly feel less personally and totally responsible for every aspect of their children’s behavior, much of the anger would be eliminated from the above scenarios.
Once the negative emotions of anger and frustration are no longer in the picture, a parent can move towards the next productive step: Don’t get involved!
With the exception of serious physical damage, or youngsters under the age of 3 or 4, it is best for parents not to intervene in an argument in which they were not involved. When toddlers do require their parents to step in, it should be done simply to separate the combatants, and not to take sides in the fight. Firmly removing the toy that has caused the conflict, or placing the children in different rooms to play will teach toddlers that they will not win points in the competition for parental love by drawing their parents into their rivalry. If mother or father had a habit of attempting to settle each fight by playing umpire, it will take some time to unlearn those habits, yet it can be done.
Obviously, it is not advisable for parents to become indifferent to their childrens bickering. Just as parents do with other developmental learning skills, they can help their children best by rooting from the sidelines and not jumping into the field.
The common outcry and initial reaction of parents reading this advice is, Oh, no! The fighting will get worse if I dont stop them! Perhaps it will. In the long term, which is usually a period of several weeks, the sibling rivalry will diminish significantly.
The bottom line is that parents cannot always be there for their children during confrontations. Children must learn to deal effectively with their differences independent of their parents.
Your children will learn essential social skills when they are forced to figure out how to negotiate their differences on their own. That is a priceless lesson that parents can only teach by stepping back.