You may not be ready for the answer, but let’s begin with a question: what is the most common form of family violence?
Answer: sibling fights. On average, siblings fight around eight times per hour. Far too often, these interactions are dismissed as “normal” without really getting to the heart of them.
Sure, some conflict and rivalry are inevitable. But how do you know when they cross the line?
Based on the statistics cited above, yes, sibling fights are technically “normal.” So, where do parents need to focus? The idea is to refrain from normalizing abusive, extreme, or bullying behaviors. In other words, think carefully about what actions you would never tolerate in another setting and nip them early on at home.
Signs of a Sibling Rivalry and/or Sibling Conflict
In the absence of violence, sibling rivalry may manifest in mutual frustration and a willingness to rat each other out to the parents. In more severe cases, one or more children may regress to baby-like behaviors. This is a subconscious attempt to garner attention from the parents and includes:
- Baby talk
- Wetting the bed
It should be obvious that none of the above should be ignored. However, there is a huge difference between your child tattling on a sibling and one of them bed-wetting past a certain age. The tattling is annoying but normal.
What should not be viewed as normal? Escalating aggression. For starters, this may mean temper tantrums and/or acting out against people or objects. From there, fights might involve troubling components like verbal abuse and/or physical attacks (no matter how “minor”). This is where and when the parents must decide that enough is enough.
How to Address Sibling Fights
The first step for a parent is to stay calm. Do not allow yourself to match your children’s emotional outbursts or intensity. Approach the situation as neutrally as you can. Model what healthy conflict resolution looks like for your children. (This also goes for those times when your children witness you engaged in a disagreement.) Other suggestions include:
Mediate But Don’t Over Do It
Your children need help but they don’t need you to do all the work. Teach them how to calmly explain their perspective. Encourage them to embrace problem-solving skills over aggression. Yes, you often will have to intervene. However, consider it a teaching moment, using intervention intentionally.
Look For More Teaching Moments
If your child’s emotions regularly reach the boiling point, they may struggle with emotional regulation. Work with them positively. Take time to help them notice and name what they are feeling. Also, teach them self-soothing skills like deep breathing or taking a time-out.
Teaching moments also exist in a pre-emptive state. Take the time to discuss social skills with your kids. This may include:
- Learning how to say no in a healthy way
- Determining how to ask for help
- Seeing the situation through a sibling’s eyes
Take Notice of and Praise Good Behavior
When your kids are getting along and playing well together, point it out. Praise them. Show them that you can do more than yell and punish. Research shows that such praise can go a long way in reducing sibling rivalries.
Get Help For Yourself
Of course, children that can’t seem to stop fighting may benefit from counseling. But what about you? You need guidance and support, too. No one should be expected to have all the answers when it comes to childrearing. It can be a tough and thankless job. All of this can be effectively countered by committing to regular therapy sessions.
Give yourself a regular time and space to air out your concerns, doubts, fears, and hopes. You can help your kids while helping yourself. In fact, that is the ideal balance. I’m here to help. Please consider parent therapy, and reach out for a confidential consultation today.
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