Let’s start by getting rid of the words “sibling rivalry.” This term implies that the sort of “stuff” that goes on between siblings has something to do with their rivalry for parental attention, time, goods or services.
Since many parents, who give their children a great deal of attention and are doing their level best to be scrupulously fair, still find themselves dealing with warring siblings, I think we can rule out “rivalry.”
I prefer the term “sibling mayhem.” When we have more than one child, there is a certain amount of mayhem that does along with sibling interactions.
What is a parent to do? How can we make our homes a pleasant oasis in which everyone feels valued and secure, rather than a war zone?
Let’s think about three situations:
Someone comes running to you
Forget “don’t tell tales!” Actually, you do want them to tell you. Firstly, it gives you information about whether you need to intervene or not. If there is no blood or teeth-marks, don’t intervene.
Your child has done a very sensible thing and got away from a dangerous situation. Let them tell you their tale of woe, hear them out and soothe them down. The most important thing is that mum or dad “gets it” i.e. understands and is empathetic.
Once they have calmed down, they can decide whether to go back or to keep away.
You see unacceptable behaviour
Take action. Exile the offender to their room until they are ready to behave in a civilised way. You do not need this sort of behaviour in your home.
Often, there is one child who sets it up (often with provocative words) so that the other one is always caught in retaliation (often physical). Get much smarter at catching the “setter-upper.” They are the ones who make sure that the peace of your household is destroyed.
You hear the situation heating up
We’ve all heard escalating noises that indicate the situation is heating up and stayed away hoping they’d sort themselves out. This is known as the triumph-of-hope over experience. Sooner or later there is a crash or a scream or both – and lots of sorting out to do.
Stay alert and get in there as soon as you hear the situation escalating. Hold them both accountable for the discord. Use my wonderful “no-blame” phrase – “This isn’t working.”
Split the children up and send them to separate rooms and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, just go to their rooms and say, “Time’s up.” They are free to stay separate or to resume playing together.
Once they realise that when they scrap, you will show up immediately none-too-pleased and take action, you can just walk down the corridor heavy-footed and the odds are that they will have sprung apart by the time you get there.
Your children will learn one of two things by using this approach each time they fight:
• They will learn not to fight or
• They will learn to fight very quietly.
By Diane Levy
Diane Levy is a family therapist and well-known public speaker. She is the author of the best seller Of Course I Love You…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM!, “They Look So Lovely When They’re Asleep,” and “Time-Out for Tots, Teens and Everyone in Between.
In our upcoming Spring 2013 issue, we will be running a question and answer column with Diane offering her professional wisdom and advice regarding parenting concerns. Get those questions flowing! Please email to firstname.lastname@example.org.