“My kids fight over everything,” writes Melinda Wenner Moyer, a science journalist, who writes for Scientific American among many other publications, and is a mother of two. In a Dec. 26 New York Times article What to Do When Your Kids Fight, she echoes a well-known complaint among parents that they fight not just over toys “but also things as mundane as to who gets to brush their teeth first in the morning.” While they can also be ever so sweet to each other, “sometimes it feels as if their relationship is more Game of Thrones than The Brady Bunch”.
Moyer mentions that sibling conflict is normal, and offers mediation techniques that will build empathy and help them settle disputes themselves. Here are a few helpful suggestions to use when trying to solve sibling rivalry:
Prepare your kids for the arrival of new siblings
When a new baby is expected, talk about your future baby in humanizing ways. Set aside time to spend one-on-one. “Talk about the baby as a person who has wants and needs and desires” suggests Holly Recchia, Ph.D., a psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal who studies how relationships shape kids’ social and moral development. “In a 2017 study, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Toronto found that when young children can better perceive others’ feelings and needs… they play better with their siblings, the article notres
Give older siblings one-on-one time, and treat siblings equitably
Dr. Brenda Volling, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, and her colleagues found, in researching literature on the subject, that children experience little to no disruption after the birth of a new baby. This doesn’t mean the transition will be easy, says Dr. Volling. A baby is a big change for everyone in the family but typically, families feel somewhat back to normal after a few months.
It’s important to set aside time to spend with your older sibling to let him know that he has not been replaced and that he is loved and plays an important role by praising him when he does something kind or helpful. Also try to make things fair and don’t show favoritism to one child over another.
In fights, be a mediator, not an arbitrator
According to research in the field, siblings who are left to resolve conflicts on their own use compromise or reconciliation only 12 percent of the time. This often can teach kids the wrong lessons, that the best way to solve conflict is by coercion and bullying. Parents shouldn’t be a judge or arbiter: since you often don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong. “Even when you do, the minute you take one child’s side over the other, the losing child feels a sense of resentment that degrades the sibling relationship and fuels further conflict”, Moyer’s article points out. The child who loses might try to get even and hurt the other sibling.
Moyer, in the article on the Times website, notes research that suggests that the best way for parents to intervene is to act as mediator- not to decide who’s right or wrong or how the conflict should be resolved but to instead stay calm, treat siblings equally and help them answer questions about how the conflict took place. Ask each sibling to describe what happened, and identify points of contention and common ground. “Foster mutual understanding and empathy between the siblings by encouraging them to discuss their feelings and asking each child to repeat what the other said.” This will help each sibling understand why they acted the way he or she did. You could ask the siblings to consider what are some ways they could fix this? What other could you do next time without fighting? By helping your children learn how to compromise, you’re building skills that will last a lifetime.
“Slow it down and help them hear each other, as opposed to deciding how it’s going to end,” advises Dr Recchia.