Sibling Conflicts: Tips for Prevention and Intervention
"Dad, he's in my room and he's using my stuff again!"
"Mom, it's her turn to set the table and she wants me to do it!"
"He called me a stupidhead."
Do these statements sound familiar? If you have more than one child, they probably do because these are common examples of sibling conflict. Arguing and bickering among children often cause frustration and concern in parents. However, this behavior is a routine part of growing up in families. Only when bickering turns into constant arguments, fights, and the creation of some potentially dangerous situations, should it be considered a problem that should be addressed by parents. The following are some tips to help parents promote sibling harmony and deal effectively with sibling conflict when it does occur.
Promoting sibling peace and harmony
Allow siblings to express their feelings about each other. "I hate him" or "I wish I had some other sister" are frequent declarations. Don't dismiss or suppress children's resentment or angry feelings. Parents often try to talk children out of their feelings by saying things like "Stop complaining about your brother." But anger is part of being human, and it's commonplace for siblings to get furious with one another from time to time. Children feel their parents understand them when their upset feelings are acknowledged. This can help them feel better and even treat another child better. Children need to know that although it's okay to become angry, these feelings do not give them license to behave in cruel and dangerous ways.
Don't make comparisons. It is only natural for parents to notice when one child is more cooperative or better behaved than another, but comparing siblings does not encourage better behavior. Comparison intensifies jealousy and envy and often causes the child who was unfavorably compared to want to get even with the child who was praised. Instead of comparison, each child in the family should be given individual goals and expectations.
Equal distribution. If siblings frequently squabble over the same things, develop a system for equal distribution. For example, a rotation system could be set up in which the children take turns for such privileges as who decides what television program to record, who gets to choose where to go to eat lunch, etc.
But-treat children individually-not always equally. Some parents believe that the best way to avoid arguments is to strive for equality among all the children; for example, buying something for one child means buying something for the other children, or complimenting one child means complimenting all the children. However, it's a mistake to think that this will avoid arguments and sometimes it even encourages comparisons by the children. No matter how hard parents try to make things equal, children are bound to find something that's unfair. Instead, try to give to each child according to individual need. Rather than tell children that you love them equally, point out the special qualities that make them unique.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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