Sibling rivalries: Interfere or not interfere?

Family Matters: Showing children how to spend quality time with others can not only solve sibling rivalries but teach them valuable skills for life.

Bringing Israeli Youth  (photo credit: kkl)
Bringing Israeli Youth
(photo credit: kkl)
Roni asks: “I have two sons under the age of six. They normally get along quite well, but once in a while they seem to enter another fight for no apparent reason. I tried reasoning with them, threatening them and even just staying out of it, but can’t seem to find the right formula. Should I get involved in their arguments? If so, how?”
The short answer to your question is: Stay out of it.
One of the hardest things for parents to do is not to do anything. When you get involved in a conflict your children are having, you may be able to help resolve the argument, but only in the short term. Ask yourself - what did your children take from this experience? Will they be able to effectively solve their conflicts when you’re not around? But “staying out of it” doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to help them resolve their sibling rivalries. Here are some tips on how you can help them solve their own disagreements and acquire important tools for life.
Teach them about active listening.
Children argue and fight. That’s the reality. But you can take measures to ensure they will be able to resolve those arguments more effectively. Teach your children about the concept of ‘Active Listening’. In Active Listening we need to pay attention to what the other party has to say, instead of focusing on refuting their arguments or on when we’ll get our chance to speak. Using this tool makes the other feel truly listened to. In turn, it makes them like us more and be more willing to listen to what we have to say as well. In situations of conflict this is a much needed skill, since without listening to one another, and realizing what each of us actually wants, our chances of quickly resolving a conflict are quite slim. If your children are too young to understand this concept, try reading them a story that involves a conflict. Tell them to listen carefully, and then ask them what bothered each of the parties involved and what caused them to be so angry or upset.
Teach them about creating solutions
Tell your kids that unlike at school, there is not just one right answer to resolving a conflict. Almost any disagreement they have about space, toys or even what to watch on TV can be solved in any number of ways. Present your children with scenarios, preferably some they have encountered before, and ask them what suggestions they have for resolving those conflicts. Ask each child to suggest at least two or three different solutions. If you wish, you can take it to the next level, and see if they can agree on one of these solutions as the most appropriate one for each case.
Encourage family time
Just as there is great value in each of the children getting some quality time with their parents, there should also be some set times for quality time with siblings. When children spend time with their peers, it forces them to deal with sharing-related-issues. It also allows them to learn more about their siblings’ likes and dislikes. In time, by encouraging this "sibling quality time," you are allowing your children to slowly develop conflict resolution skills. These skills will be in great use the next time conflict breaks.
If your children have requested your intervention, don’t shy away. But instead of judging and enforcing a solution, try a new approach. Ask them both to tell their side of the story, while listening carefully to what their brother has to say. You can repeat or rephrase what they were saying or even ask your children to do so. Ask them to suggest acceptable solutions to their problem and choose the best one. Acting this way will empower your children and teach them some valuable skills for life.
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. She recently published her first children's book teaching conflict resolution in the family on Amazon. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at [email protected]