What’s more common than seeing brothers, one moment fighting like cats and dogs and the next kissing and playing favorites? How should parents react, and what attitude should they take to fraternal quarrels? If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve heard expressions like “Dad, he hit me!”, “Mom, she bothers me and won’t let me play with my toys!”. That is how disputes between siblings usually begin. Most times, without severe causes, they start fighting and immediately get back together.
Thus, the parents’ attitude and how they handle these quarrels are crucial for shaping the subsequent relationship that the siblings will have. Maybe these fights upset the whole family and the parents, who often do not know how to react or how to intervene to rectify the situation.
But let’s first look at the reasons why the brothers are fighting:
· They don’t like to share their stuff. It is important to gradually learn how to share and have certain things that belong exclusively to them. When siblings share a common room, it is good to have a special space for toys that are “off-limits” for other siblings. In general, it’s good to encourage them to share one of their toys, but to let them decide what and when. We do not need to force them to share their favorite objects; after all, we as adults do not share all the things that belong to us.
· The collision may be caused by boredom. A child can start a fight because he is bored or because he wants to attract his parents’ attention from his brother or sister to himself. It’s more likely to cause a disturbance at home because of the fight, but the kids might be having fun.
· Fights are caused by “character mismatch.” They may be siblings, but they usually differ significantly in character, personality, behavior, or interests, enhancing or eliminating conflicts between them.
· Evolving needs can lead to fights. Children’s requirements, anxieties, and character vary from age to age, shaping the relationship between siblings. Thus we have the following differences: 1) In infancy, children are incredibly possessive towards their things and the attention of their parents. 2) School-age children have acquired a strong sense of fairness and equality. They may not understand why their older siblings enjoy more privileges or why parents are more indulgent with younger children. 3) In pre-teen and adolescence, they want independence and parents not to interfere in their matters. For this reason, they may react if they are assigned to read their younger siblings or take on some housework. Thus, different needs that are formed according to age can cause quarrels between siblings.
· All of the above are usually due to almost all siblings’ jealousy and competition with each other. This jealousy is triggered by the arrival of the newborn baby in the house and the transfer of the parents’ attention from the big to the small child. Children claim a more significant share of their parents’ love and care or envy their older or younger siblings’ privileges.
The fight’s on! What can we do?
· If the children’s physical integrity is not at risk, try not to get involved in their fight. The more often you intervene, the more the problem grows, and children will always need an adult to resolve their differences. If you are worried about the vocabulary your children may use, you can talk to them at another time about words and expressions that they may or may not use, both inside and outside the family.
· If necessary, separate the children until they calm down. Sometimes it is better to have some time to think and calm down in different parts of the house, instead of immediately starting to resolve their disagreements, as this may have the opposite effect, i.e., to re-start the fight. When it is calmer, suggest that they sit down together and find a solution that works for everyone.
· Do not try to find out which child is responsible for the fight or who started it, or even if you know the person responsible for the dispute, do not take sides with one or the other. It doesn’t matter, since there are always two people involved in a fight and they have the same responsibility for its continuing.
· After the fight stops, you can reach out to the kids by asking, “What’s the matter here?” Once they have answered you satisfactorily, please encourage them to propose a solution. Letting children find a solution to their disagreements is a great way to learn to talk and negotiate, helping rationalize their anger and assert their rights as adults.
· It is good to listen to each child’s point of view and urge them not to blame each other, but each to speak for himself and how he acted, where he was wrong, and where he behaved properly. Your attitude will be neutral, and you will help them to come to a solution.
· Encourage them to reverse roles if their age allows. In this way, they will be able to put themselves in each other’s shoes and understand how their brother or sister feels and understand his or her motives and feelings, which can help resolve the dispute.
· If necessary, remove the source of the collision. If it appears that a particular toy is causing disagreement among children, remove it for a while.
· Please specify the consequences of their action. Children need to understand that their behaviors will have corresponding results. The consequences are an alternative to punishment, as long as you do not confuse them with bribery.
· Give the children clear instructions. Children do not understand some statements, such as “Play beautifully”, “Be good children” etc. You need to be more precise and use more words and explanations. You cannot force your children to feel love for each other, but you can encourage them to collaborate. You can tell them in a way that they understand what you expect from their behavior. “If you want to play together, I expect you to talk and behave as beautifully as you can to each other.”
· If negotiation is not possible, distract them. You suggest alternatives such as, “Who’s going to help me make cookies?” or “Who wants to ride a bike?” or “Who’s going to play a board game with me?” If the options you offer them are desirable, they are more likely to be distracted from the fight and stop.
Indeed, not all suggestions are suitable for all circumstances or all children. It is a good thing to choose the ones that suit the occasion and find them more useful, knowing that each child is different and while one technique works with one child, it may not work with another. You may need to apply a combination of the above suggestions.
Prevent conflict by creating harmonious relationships between siblings!
· As parents, be the example to your children. How parents deal with the problems and disagreements between them is a powerful role model for children. If the parents resolve their differences with productive discussion, mutual concessions, and without loud voices, the children will likely imitate them. If children grow up in an environment where they constantly hear yelling and tensions, they will most likely adopt the same behavior in their conflicts.
· Set with the children specific rules about acceptable behavior at home among all family members. Explain to them that we speak and behave kindly, discuss whatever issue arises, and not shout to prevail.
· It is useful to teach children how to control their anger and channel it into alternative behaviors or productive activities. When they want to speak badly or shout because of their anger intensity, a helpful tip is to count to 10 and think again. They can even hit pillows, take ten deep breaths, dance, or listen to music to calm down.
· Don’t compare one child to another. All children are different from each other and maybe good at one activity, and the other may be capable of another. Many times even indirect comparison can be detrimental to the relationship between siblings (e.g., “Your brother is too good at math.” or “All teachers said the best about your sister.”). Such comments can hurt children and cause jealousy, especially if they do not do so well in these areas. So instead of resorting to comparisons, encourage and praise each child for their unique abilities.
· Ask the older children for help. A strong bond can be formed between siblings if you suggest that the older child teach something to the youngest.
· Protect the privacy of each child. Children don’t need to always play with their siblings or have the same interests. Also, do not expect the older child to allow the younger one to play with him at all times. So you can give the younger one another game to play or suggest an alternative activity.
· If your children usually argue about items they need to use together (e.g., a computer), you can establish a “user schedule.” Set the days and times each child can use them and what days and times they should have in common.
· Organize often activities or excursions that the whole family will participate in to develop deeper relationships between its members. That helps to smooth out differences and allows open discussions, where everyone can express their opinion; in such a context, you can motivate each family member to say five positive elements of another member’s character.
In your way, then, and by example, you will be able to create harmonious relationships between your children, as your role is to give your children the necessary resources and foundations to have the skills to cultivate brotherly love.