Sibling rivalry. My brother, sister and I certainly had our fair share. Perhaps that’s why as a mom I’m so quick to intervene when I hear the familiar strain in my kids’ voices as a disagreement starts to take a turn toward the ugly. I want to stop the ensuing insult before it’s uttered. I want to stop a punch before it’s thrown. Of course, by always intervening, I’m not letting my children learn how to resolve their own conflicts. What will they do when a nasty argument occurs away from the home—perhaps on the school playground, or among teammates on the basketball court or soccer field? Their momma won’t be running to referee.
We addressed this topic recently in the parenting magazine I edit. That’s how I was reassured that sibling conflict (a more accurate description than “rivalry”) is normal, and can even be beneficial in helping them develop life skills. I also got some valuable tips on how to handle it. Don’t choose sides. Take preemptive measures to eliminate or at least lessen known triggers. Let your kids know what absolutely isn’t acceptable. Encourage kindness.
The other day, yet another (insipid) argument sprung up between my kids. (That they were jostling to sit in the same spot on the same couch should have clued me in that it was going to go south soon.) I was on the phone, and cupping the mouthpiece while I told them to knock it off. They didn’t. My daughter got really miffed, and slapped my son; my son got miffed and slapped/hit her back. She then hit him, and he was in full wind-up to deliver his return when I dropped the phone and yelled, “Stop!”
Fortunately he did. And then was sent to his room to cool his temper. That’s when I, armed with all of my recent insight into sibling conflict, decided to have a heartfelt talk with him. I explained that he could only control his own behavior, and not his sister’s. And explained (again) that hitting is not allowed. And I went on and on ad nauseam about it all, so much so that I think I merely wore him down with words. (No, talking a child to death wasn’t one of the tips on managing sibling conflict that we had in our article.) At the end, he calmly said, “Wow. You spoke to me for 55 minutes about all of this.”
If he retains any of it, hurray. We have yet to see, as no nasty arguments have erupted since that day. Maybe he’s just terrified of another hour-long discussion about behavior with Mom.