We all know the scene. Your children are having a row, each is blaming the other and they are calling you and expecting you to sort it out. Meantime, you are frustrated and disappointed that they can’t seem to get along and, in most cases, asking what happened so you can judge the situation and assign appropriate punishments. We know the scene
) “Mum/Dad – he/she hit me and won’t give me back my game”
“Oh for goodness sake, calm down and tell me what happened”
Child 1 “he/she started it!”
“No I didn’t – you did!”
Child 1 “he hit me”
“Did you hit your sister/brother?”
“Yes but he/she kicked me first”
Child 1 “No I didn’t – you took my game!”
“Did you take the game?”
Child 1 “You always take his/her side”
And so on and on and on…….this usually escalates into a huge row, the three of you are shouting and everyone is getting very stressed out!
Ongoing competition and rows between siblings is one of the most common problems that parents encounter in their families. It can be quite upsetting as parents generally hope that their children will get on and will be good friends and are disappointed when this does not happen. A common pattern is see the older child as having more responsibility and to expect more from him/ her, but it is often the case that the younger child is equally culpable and the older child can feel he/she is being treated unfairly.
A different approach is to see the problem as shared between your children and that they are equally responsible. This means that you don’t take sides in a dispute and always try to be fair. For example, if you catch the two of them fighting you don’t get involved as a referee and try to decide who is ‘at fault’ but instead you ask them to sort the problem out themselves. If the fighting continues then you discipline them equally – perhaps the game has to stop and they are both sent to their rooms for a period. In addition, if one of the children comes to you with a complaint about the other you don’t take sides as you help them deal with it. For example, if your daughter comes and says her brother has been teasing her, you might sympathise with her and help think how she is going to deal with this, but you don’t get involved and discipline your son.
Though fights and arguments between brothers and sisters are part and parcel of growing up, excessive fighting is a problem and it is important to take steps to solve it and to teach your children how to get on with one another in the long term. Try and work out if there is anything at the bottom of the squabbling. Does one of your children feel inadequate and jealous of the other who might be getting on better at school? Or are you inadvertently favouring one of the children, (e.g. it is easier to let a younger child away with things and ‘expect more’ from the older child). Once you have a sense of what is causing the fighting then you can do something positive about it. For example, you can resolve to spend special time with the child who feels inadequate, doing an activity with them that he is good at, thus building his confidence, or you can resolve to be fairer with an older child, giving both children equal attention. Some other ideas are as follows:
- Set up shared activities with you and the two children, when you can help and guide your children in playing well together. When you see any moments of sharing, be sure to notice this saying for example, ‘you gave your brother some of your cars, it is good to see you sharing’.
- You could also establish a reward system, for example they each get a sticker any time you see them sharing or being kind to one another.
- Help the children solve their own problems. Rather than jumping in the minute they have a row, give them time to sort it out themselves (unless they are harming one another). If you do get involved instead of being a referee and imposing a solution, step back and help the children come up with their own ideas saying for example ‘OK both of you want to play with the play station, what can we do?’ If you take time to listen, often the kids will come up with their own solutions.
- Set aside time for a ‘family meeting’ to discuss the issues and come up with ideas for solving the problem and helping the children to sort out their disagreements. Rather than being be a ‘judge’, it is important to be positive saying what you want to happen: ‘I want to help the two of you learn to get on and share more, this will make things happier in the home. How can we make this happen’?
The most important thing to do then is to listen to your children and help them think through how to solve things.