There is an ancient quote that says, “A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.”
Parents can derive a lot of comfort from the universality of sibling rivalry. In fact, right at the beginning of time, the first two siblings on the planet, Cain and Abel, refused to get along with each other. The result was that Cain killed his brother! Fortunately, we can (hopefully!) rest assured that our children are not about to murder their sister or brother. However, this reassurance really provides little comfort in the face of near-constant fighting,, teasing, and arguing.
Is there anything we parents do in order to eliminate sibling rivalry?
In evaluating any human behavior it is useful to examine the emotions and thoughts that precede the behavior, which will enable us to fully understand and rectify the issue at hand.
What are the thoughts that are likely to be occupying the mind of a mother or father whose children are engaged in bickering? Oftentimes, the parent takes responsibility for the children’s misbehavior and subconsciously concludes that it is a personal failure in him or herself. The thought process travels along these lines: “If my child can behave in this manner, then it has to be my fault, and therefore I am a failure as a parent.”
As a result of the parent’s feelings of inadequacy, the parent will instinctively attempt to “fix” the child, who rarely responds positively, and his or her behavior generally deteriorates further. As the parent becomes more enraged, he or she often becomes angry at the perceived cause of the feelings of incompetence – the child!
When parents do allow themselves to correctly feel less personally and totally responsible for every aspect of their children’s behavior, much of the anger can be eliminated from the above scenario.
Once the negative emotions of anger and frustration have been removed from the picture, a parent can move towards the next productive step: Don’t get involved!
With the exception of serious physical damage, or youngsters under the age of 3 or 4, it is advisable for parents not to intervene in an argument in which they were not involved. When toddlers do require their parents to step in, it should be done simply to separate the combatants, and not to take sides in the fighting. Firmly removing the toy that has caused the conflict, or placing the children in different rooms to play will teach toddlers that they will not win any points in the competition for parental love by drawing their parents into their sibling rivalry. If Mom or Dad previously had a habit of attempting to settle each fight by playing umpire, it will take some time to unlearn those habits, yet it can be done and yield tremendously peaceful results.
Obviously, it is not advisable for parents to become indifferent to their children’s bickering. Just as parents do a myriad of other developmental learning skills, such as walking or riding a bicycle, the children can help their children best by rooting from the sidelines and not jumping into the field.
The common outcry and initial reaction of parents reading these words is, “Oh, no! The fighting will get worse if I don’t stop them!” Yes, perhaps it will. In the long term,, the sibling rivalry will diminish significantly.
The bottom line is that parents cannot always be there for their children during confrontations that occur during childhood or adulthood. Children must learn to deal effectively with their differences independent of their parents.
Your children will learn important social skills when they are forced to figure out how to negotiate their differences on their own. That is a priceless lesson that can only be taught by parents stepping back.