Saturday, 22 February 2014

How to Deal with Sibling Fights

A football referee's job is child's play when it comes to dealing with the tussles your little ones get into day in and day out. It seems impossible to get on top of it. It's seen more aggressively in 4 to 8 year olds, but continues well into the teens. We see this more often in children whose age difference is not significantly vast. When I talk about sibling fights, I mean:

Siblings engaging in physical fights
Verbal abuse, using bad language
Tattling, telling on one another (true or not)
Sibling jealousy, feeling frustrated over the achievements of siblings
Siblings bickering over fairness or parental attention

These are the core issues facing mothers everyday. They take on different forms with different age groups. Again, I do not want to go in depth about examples of the above as the article would become too lengthy, but I am confident that readers all have a general idea about how it is.

So the question is, how do we deal with the children in such a way that is fair, just and simple enough for young minds to comprehend?

Here are a few suggestions that might help:

1. Nip it in the bud: As soon as your ears pick up elevated voices, try separating the siblings before it turns into an ugly fist fight. Send one to another room if possible. As they are shouting at you about the faults of each other, make it a point not to listen when they are so charged up. Things cool down fast once they there is distance between them. Then either you can discuss the issue with them both or separately one at a time. From an early age you have to convince your kids that your word will be final and you have to show that you will always be just. The only way to do that is sincerely understand your children, both sides need a fair judgement. Even if the issue is as slight as a, 'Why does he have a bigger lollipop than mine?'

2. Avoid creating potentially unfair situations: One child got straight A's. The other got a couple of B's and C's. What do you do? You go out and treat the better preforming child. It does not occur to you that the better performing kid has a natural tendency, and the one who did not do as great has in fact, shown progress that is greater than the other one. He worked hard to bring up his grades whereas the former child is just as good as he was last time. In my eyes, the one with the B's and C's is the truly deserving child. Still I feel as a parent, you have to show your appreciation for both children and truly acknowledge their individual accomplishments, they will not all be the same. A parent needs this perception and it can be developed with practice. However, celebrating a child's achievement can become positive if done as a group.

3. Encourage children to praise their siblings: Each time someone does something that merits a pat on the back, team up with the siblings and do it as a unit. This will minimize jealousy and teach them to be happy for one another.

4. Enforce elders sacrificing for youngers and youngers respecting elders: If you want your child to build a strong sense of empathy then it has to be done from the very start. The elder children can be made to understand that younger ones depend on them and that they should give up some privileges for them. Similarly, younger children should be taught to listen to the elder sibling, do little chores for them like bringing them their toy, or a glass of water...and don't forget to implement polite words when doing all that. Teach them the value of being the 'bigger man' and letting things go.

5. Give each child a regular one on one: It's the ideal way to decrease jealously. This, and be fair outwardly. Perhaps a child has been sick recently, and you feel he deserves another go on the merry go round, but consider the feeling of your other child. It was not any fault of his that he did not fall sick. What passes in his little brain? If only we could see. But I believe that being a mom you can. You just sometimes don't have the patience. But these things really count in bringing up a well adjusted decent human being.

6. Rationalize: Certain special situations, like a child who is special needs can be explained to the other sibling and trust me he will get it. A younger child may wonder why his bed time is an hour before the elder's. If you explain the situation in a loving, yet matter of factly manner, he will certainly understand. You can explain that since he is younger his body requires more sleep that the other. You can promise him that when he is that age he will enjoy the same benefits. When they are even 3 or 4 you begin to kindly explain that you are fair with all them depending on the needs of the individual.

7. Really Listen: I mentioned a parent needs perception, to think in the shoes of the child. Only then can parents truly assess the situation and be just. This can not happen without first understanding your child's problem with his sibling. Sometimes it could be a major issue that needs to be addressed, sometimes it is nothing, but appearances can be deceiving. Along with being a referee, you also have to be a good detective and pick up clues and ask questions and listen intently.

8. Brainstorm with the kids: The reality is, often times things don't get resolved. In such situations it becomes interesting to ask the kids how they would resolve the issue if it were them in your shoes. Obviously this can't be done with very young kids, but even children as young as 6 can participate in healthy discussions.

9. Ground rules: Finally, the kids have to know that its you who has the final say. As they get older and you nurture them fairly, they will come to trust your decisions even when they don't agree because deep down they know that you mean well and you are their best friend. Some possible ground rules that you can implement are:

No bad words will be tolerated.
No listening to the kids when their voices are elevated with emotion, listen when they have fairly calmed down.
Appreciation for the 'bigger man'.
Telling tales is not allowed. No lies.
Strictly no hitting, shoving, pushing, pulling, banging, biting etc.
It ends when you say it ends.

Let's face it, despite your best efforts, all the above will happen. But your constant strife in turning these wrestling matches into successful conflict negotiation tools will definitely benefit the children in the long run by making them emphatic, responsible and loving individuals.


  1. Very informative article Rahima , very well done topic , Infact all the parents must read such tips to control the kids and be fair with them

  2. this is something we can read once a month at least as a reminder. well written!