How can sibling fights be dealt with effectively and fairly? To answer that question let’s look at sibling conflicts from three perspectives: the physical, the mental and the spiritual perspective.
The Physical Perspective
Viewed from the physical level a clash looks abrupt and chaotic. It seems as if the kids are picking a fight on purpose, or are just bullying or nagging each other. And worse, it sometimes feels as if they are out to get to you, the parents, because they know it upsets you. The outer appearance is definitely one of annoyance, of disturbance that parents would rather be rid of as soon as possible.
But before you act and engage at this level, consider two more perspectives.
The Mental Perspective
Not all fighting among siblings is necessarily destructive. You should not let yourself get upset at each and every loud exchange that your kids may have, and make an end to their communication right then and there. Try to determine what exactly is going on. Is it honing of skills and balancing of positions? Or is one child bullying the other and deliberately trying to dominate the other and force her will on him, or vice versa? It takes an experienced eye to distinguish among these possibilities. Of course, in the last scenario you will need to step in and protect the child that is abused, as well as investigate the causes of the first child’s dominating behavior.
In her many books on child abuse Swiss psychologist Alice Miller (1) points out that children re-enact to others what has been done to them. Thinking along this line certainly puts you, the kids’ parents on the spot. Watching your children quarrel and argue might give you some clues as to the quality of your own communication relative to your children.
The Spiritual Perspective
In addition to the physical and mental perspectives, there is the spiritual perspective when it comes to sibling conflict. On some deep level I believe siblings have chosen to be together. They each have a role to play in the other’s life. Whether they punch or play, deep down they know there is a connection between them. It just takes a lot of playing and punching to find the right expression for that connection.
Friendship and Loyalty
Lastly, children learn a valuable lesson from overcoming sibling fights, namely that hating and hitting do not have the last word in their relationship – friendship and loyalty do. Only when they have lived through disharmony and disagreement can they truly appreciate the value of genuine friendship and loyalty. Part of this equation is responsibility and accountability. In the end, the kids themselves are responsible for the quality of their relationship. To support them in embracing this responsibility you could ask for their suggestions for improving the quality of their communication.
Arguments and fights are such physical, right-in-your-face type of manifestations of children’s inner experiences that it is hard to look beyond the appearance offered by clamor and commotion. Knowing that there are deep, inner layers trying to find expression in sibling conflicts might make your intervention more effective.
Please share your views on this most important, and too often neglected, child rearing topic.
1) Miller A. (1983), For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Farrar Struass Giroux, New York.
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This article previously appeared on Notes on Parenting, a site dedicated to providing insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.