I often get asked the question, “How do I get my child to stop fighting with his/her sibling?” Short answer; Don’t. Fighting isn’t just inevitable – its’ educational.
I am a mom of four children aged between 3 and 9 years old. Three girls and one boy. They are absolute angels in my eyes, but I can assure you; they totally disagree and fight almost daily.
In the same breath, anyone that knows us will tell you we are a very calm and easy family. Our focus has always been to raise independent and kind children. We constantly give them freedom to explore and try new things at least once. But ask our children what their roles as siblings are, and they will tell you that they are called to;
- Protect their siblings
- Encourage their siblings
- Respect their siblings
But then why would we encourage the disagreements and fighting that goes on in every single household with more than one child? Here’s the thing, it also drives us crazy when our kids fight. It’s annoying, heart-breaking and enough to drive us to drink heavily, but our children are actually gaining so much from their fights.
Fighting is good.
Not in the regular sense. We don’t encourage physical harming of any kind. But learning the skill of how to handle situations that they don’t agree with, how to effectively problem solve, compromise and taking responsibility for their own actions… Now that is something we encourage!
University of Pennsylvania management and psychology professor, Adam Grant, wrote,
“The skill…to have a good argument that doesn’t become personal is critical in life. But it’s one that few parents teach to their children. We want to give kids a stable home, so we stop siblings from quarrelling and we have our own arguments behind closed doors. Yet if kids never get exposed to disagreement, we’ll end up limiting their creativity.”
Siblings offer early, on-the-job training in how to work and live with other people. They also provide a crash course in how to manage intense emotions: envy, hatred, anger. These invaluable life skills are best learned in the safety of your child’s own home. Here’s how we do it.
Model Good Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict is a healthy part of any relationship, but learning how to handle that conflict is an art that even some adults have yet to master. Model good conflict resolution skills for your kids. When you and your husband fight, model how to empathize, negotiate and compromise. Don’t try to hide your fighting from them, as long you are both respectful towards each other, it actually does them good to see how adults handle conflict.
Calmly Get Involved
When your children fight or bicker, they are learning how to deal with conflict in a safe environment, with people who love them. When you constantly interfere or stop the fighting/argument, you are suppressing a very needed skill.
Psychologists advocate calmly getting involved if kids’ fights escalate to the point of violence. But being a mom of four, I can tell you that real life isn’t like that, where we have therapeutic interventions all day long, and the sooner my children know that they need to learn the skills to settle real differences, the better. I don’t want my kids always having to depend on me, or a third party, to facilitate reconciliation.
Argue It Out
The hardest part of hearing the constant arguing and fighting, is resisting the urge to interfere. If necessary, you can send them outside, or to another room, but allow them to find their way through the disagreement. Kids that are allowed to work out their conflicts learn to replace aggression with assertiveness and develop emotionally intelligent communication skills.
In the beginning, they will still often come to you with the, “Mom, he won’t give my my turn on the Playstation!” or similar. Ask your children if they feel they are able to sort it out themselves. We give our children a timed guideline before we step in. (Take 5 minutes and see if you two can come to a solution by yourselves first.) More often or not, they will try to figure it out themselves.
When To Step In
There will be situations that will call for your involvement. If there is any type of bullying, degrading, or physical violence (this happens very rarely with my kids, but it has happened) I will definitely step in and help them work out their issue. They absolutely need to understand that that type of behaviour will not be tolerated and will never resolve an argument.
Fighting isn’t just inevitable – its’ educational. Your best bet is to intervene by teaching your children strategies for working things out, and then ignore by stepping back to allow them to apply what they’ve learned.
So what to do on the next glorious morning when you wake up to another sibling squabble? Grab a cup of coffee and a bowl of popcorn and take advantage of your ringside seats to the fight of the century, and allow your children learn that they are capable of resolving their differences.
All my love,