by Nichole Hacha-Thomas
April 7, 2011
You feel as though your home is a war zone, with the kids constantly bickering and fighting. Why can’t they just get along??
Kathryn Kvols, author of “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” recognizes that squabbling among siblings is one of the most frustrating behaviors for parents. Why do kids fight? Kvols says possible reasons may include anything from boredom to seeking attention, and offers ways parents might actually encourage the fighting.
What do parents do to unwittingly encourage sibling fights?
- Compare one child to another. This can make children resentful of each other.
- Encourage competition. Even an innocent remark like “the first one to get in the car, gets a hug” sets up potential conflict.
- Force children to share. Make sure that each child has some things or space that is his alone.
- Favor one child over another. Children are sensitive to injustice and will react negatively if they perceive that a sibling is getting more attention or love from a parent.
- Label children. The one you consider your “bad” child will often strive to live up to that expectation!
- Tell them not to have negative feelings toward their sibling. “You don’t hate your brother; you love him!” Feelings that are not acknowledged will only fester. We want our children to share their feelings so that we can help them learn to deal with them.
- Rescue the “innocent” child, and blame the “aggressor.”
So what can parents do to handle the fights?
- Bring peace to the fight. When a parent enters the fray screaming and yelling, the action only builds. Addressing the kids in a calm, loving, non-emotional manner, especially if that isn’t how the parent usually reacts, will get their attention.
- Put both kids in the same boat. Although the parent may feel called upon to act as judge and jury, she actually has no way of knowing how the fight started (and who was responsible). Asking “Okay, who started this?” will only result in each blaming the other.
- Refuse to take sides. Both need to be responsible for coming up with a solution. Refuse to be drawn into the details of the disagreement. Concentrate more on preventing actual injury to a child, if that’s a possibility, or restoring peace to the household by suggesting a separation until everyone cools down. If their squabbling is more annoying to the parent than dangerous to the kids, leave the room and let them handle it!
- Recognize and empathize with their anger. “I can see that you are really upset with your sister right now.” Emotions acknowledged tend to lessen.
Away from the moment of the fight, parents can help their children learn how to deal with conflict by helping them learn win-win negotiation. Parents can also teach children to empathize with someone else’s point of view by encouraging each child to state what she sees as the issue and what might be a solution, then having each child repeat what the other said. If a parent observes that one child tends to give in repeatedly, rather than endure the conflict, the parent may need to help that child learn to stand up for himself. Role playing situations and providing verbal responses that the child can use may help your child.
As Kvols says “Children develop patterns of dealing with conflict that they’ll use for a lifetime. Some children learn to become victims, some bullies, and some learn healthy ways for handling conflict. The goal is not to stop or eliminate conflict, but rather to teach your child how to deal with conflict effectively. Parents have an important influence on the patterns children will choose.” For more help, a Redirecting Children’s Behavior class starts May 3. Call Children First Center at 260-925-3865 for information.
Launched in 2009, Learning Link is an education initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation that links different organizations and sectors of the community to align goals and produce measurable impact. Their vision is working together through continuous learning across the lifespan to improve the quality of life for all in DeKalb County. For more information, call Judy Sorg at 260-925-0311.