Posted: February 14th, 2014
Somewhere in the top three concerns most parents have is the issue of how to cut down on the amount of fighting that goes on between siblings.
Some families have hoped that having multiple children will lead to increased social skills. And in some ways this thinking is correct, as siblings sometimes learn social behaviors that an only-child might not.
The issue is that not all of those learned behaviors are positive. In addition to good social skills, siblings also learn poor ones from each other.
WHY DO THEY FIGHT ANYWAYS?
Theorists have presented hundreds of theories attempting to explain sibling rivalries.
One of the more popular notions – that siblings fight to win parental attention – held sway for decades.
Now that theory has come under more scrutiny, as recent studies have uncovered that the desire to fight for parental love and attention is not as driving a factor as previously assumed.
Yes, some children struggle when a new member is added to the mix. That is undeniable. Also, some families praise children disproportionately, causing negative feelings of competition and envy.
But in the big picture, kids fight less over you and more over…stuff. As in, this is my stuff, and I’m not sharing with you.
The main issue now being examined is that of sharing. Territorial claims over coveted toys lead to more direct conflicts than any other…as you may already know all too well!
HOW WELL DO YOUR KIDS PLAY WITH OTHERS?
The problem in most cases is that a tone is set between siblings early on – a tone established largely by the older child.
If the tone is one of equality, understanding, and respect, you can consider yourself one of the lucky families in a very small minority.
Most of the time, however, the established tone tends more toward bossy and controlling. Especially in the early years, the eldest knows more and therefore “runs the show.”
What experts are finding now is that children’s relationship with their best friend is a good predictor of how they will interact with siblings.
For example, if they learn how to include others and how to handle conflict with fairness while listening to the other’s concerns, then they tend to take these skills into other relationships. If power games rule the day, it is extremely difficult for kids to do otherwise with their siblings, especially if they are the eldest and can exercise greater control.
There is an important difference, though, between these two types of relationships that also plays a decisive role: you can lose friends if you don’t treat them right, but siblings aren’t going anywhere.
Meaning, there is little incentive to change one’s behavior with siblings who will be there no matter what. While friends might move on if you’re not being a good friend, this opt-out clause is not available in sibling contracts.
That’s why it is possible for a child to play well with friends but still struggle with siblings.
HELP THEM WANT TO PLAY TOGETHER
One of the suggested strategies for handling this is to create situations for them to want to play together. The more a sibling views the other as an irreplaceable playmate, the more motivated they will be to handle conflict fairly, or else risk losing a valuable playmate.
In other words, the more they enjoy each other, the more they will treat each other similarly to how they treat their friends.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Theory is always easier than real life – especially if the tone has already become hardened between the two.
But don’t let that stop you. Instead, create situations in which the two are set up for success, not failure.
Now, this doesn’t mean you hover around constantly playing referee. Rather, it means you don’t set them in a room where there is one “best toy,” pray for their hearts to be changed, and hope they learn to share!
You might try introducing activities such as role-playing games where they each create a persona/character of their own invention that they enjoy and begin interacting together. Take ideas from each one and help them see how fun the other’s ideas are to try out. As they figure it out, step back and let them take over. Children’s imaginations don’t need your direction.
Will there still be conflict? Of course. Will someone try and take over the game? Inevitably.
But the more they learn to view the other as a friend and not simply someone whom they take for granted because they live in the same house, the more they will learn that they must make concessions in order to keep this valued playmate around.
That’s what many siblings discover later in life, and one you can help them get a jump-start in learning!
As our children were growing up, we watched them grow from being ‘just’ siblings to becoming true friends. Now as grown adults in their 20’s and 30’s they still remain close friends, choose to do things together, and communicate on a regular basis. It has been a joy to watch the process change and develop over the years.
Most translations quote Proverbs 17:17 as, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” However, I would also like to add the New Living Translation one for this blog. “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”
Posted: February 14th, 2014 under Practical Parenting (and Grandparenting).
Tags: children, conflict resolution, Family, learning to share, parenting, sibling rivalries, siblings, tips for parents, why children fight