Turn a Fight into an Opportunity to Learn Conflict Resolution and Communication
One of the ugliest (yet most inevitable) parts of parenting multiple children is managing sibling rivalry. A certain amount of rivalry between children is totally normal; they can actually learn important social skills through healthy arguments such as conflict management and resolution, power dynamics, negotiation and compromise, plus how to be assertive and stand up for themselves.
However, arguments between siblings can escalate and leave parents feeling like an exhausted, frustrated referee at an out of control MMA match. To an adult, most sibling arguments just seem plain unnecessary. However, what seems trivial to you may not feel the same way to your child.
There are many reasons children bicker. Arguing is, first and foremost, a sure-fire way of getting attention from you. By making their sibling look bad, many children hope to gain favour with their parents. It can also be a way for them to relieve boredom, feel powerful, get physical contact and even connect with their siblings. Other times, there are outside circumstances such as periods of transition, family circumstances, developmental changes or the death of a loved one that could be causing animosity among siblings.
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While yelling and ripping their sibling’s hair out may make sense to your child at the time, there are much healthier ways to achieve these goals and have their needs met. As a parent, you can give your kids the tools to navigate away from these behaviours, play together peacefully and learn important social skills along the way.
Strategies for Diffusing Sibling Conflict
Children tend to imitate the behaviour they see around them. If you are unable to remain calm during an argument, how can you expect them to do the same? When it comes to conflict resolution, modelling the behaviours you want to see will give your kids a chance to see those coping mechanisms in action and encourage them to respond to conflict the same way.
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Have Them Come Up with Their Own Solution
Have your children devise their own resolutions that work for everyone. Before making suggestions, encourage them to put themselves in one another’s shoes and discuss, out loud, the ways that coming to a compromise would benefit the situation. Another helpful way of doing this can be to have the kids work together with pencils and paper to come up with one story they can all live with.
Dissect the Problem
Conflict resolution is a crucial skill for children to learn when they are young. However, in order to even begin exploring solutions, it’s important that they fully understand the issue itself.
Many times, an argument can arise from a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Helping your children identify this will show them that there was no reason to fight. If there is a genuine issue, your children will have already made an attempt to put themselves in one another’s shoes, and it will be easier to come to an understanding.
Have Each Express Their Feelings in a Calm Manner
In situations that are particularly tense, it helps to give your children a chance to cool off before you begin trying to find a solution to the problem. Send them to different rooms for a few minutes and give them a calming activity they enjoy. When they have cooled off, ask if they are ready to have a calm conversation.
Give each child the chance to speak, uninterrupted, and have them tell their sides of the story one at a time. If they begin to get worked up, encourage them to take a few deep breaths with you. This will ensure everyone is heard and fully understood.
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Remain Neutral – Don’t Take Sides!
Never compare your children to one another, inside or outside of an argument. Favouritism fosters a brand of sibling rivalry that is not healthy, one born of genuine jealousy and resentment due to feelings of inferiority.
In an argument, no matter how small, never take one child’s side over another. Instead of fueling the fire by deciding who was ‘right,’ objectively map out each point of view and have your children discuss why they are feeling this way. Rather than fixing the problem for them, you are making it a learning experience by handing them the toolbox.
Brainstorm Ways to Solve the Conflict
Sometimes, there’s nothing to do but bust out the art supplies. Use markers, pencils or crayons to help the kids create a “mind map” of possible solutions to the problem. Encourage them to write down or doodle every solution they think of, no matter how crazy it may seem.
Not only will this help them learn to communicate and empathize with one another, but the activity itself is calming. With any luck, your little ones will get distracted and forget why they were fighting in the first place!
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Often, the best thing you can do is remind your children that you’re there for them. Assure them that there is a solution, and that you’ll be there to help them find it. It’s important to give children the opportunity to come to an agreement peacefully and constructively, but if the argument gets heated or aggressive, you should intervene immediately.
If you’re not there to see the argument itself, sit down with your children together and discuss what happened. Establish respect as an unbreakable rule in your household and make it clear that aggression of any kind is unacceptable.
Keeping the Peace: Keep the Good Vibes Flowing
Once the conflict has been resolved, it’s important to continue building and maintaining a positive and encouraging environment for your kids. The following suggestions are all great ways to prevent future arguments and promote a stronger sibling bond:
- Organize ‘special sibling time’ together regularly, playing a game or activity they all enjoy
- Follow up – make sure the solution you came up with together is still working for everyone
- Don’t interrupt “happy” play and stay out of arguments that are only harmless bickering.
- Encourage them to show affection regularly, like saying ‘goodnight’ and ‘I love you’ every night.
If working it out isn’t enough, and you find yourself having the same conversation over and over, sometimes it’s best to suggest that they take a prolonged break from one another. It’s best to suggest my go-to strategy: find someone else to hang out with. Even if they need to find someone else to hang out with for a while, your children will still be required to speak in a kind and respectful way when they are interacting.
That being said, bouts of sibling rivalry will still happen. Don’t think you can get away that easily. Again, healthy sibling rivalry can be healthy for a child’s development. But for the sake of everyone involved, it’s important to know the difference between that and an argument that is about to escalate into insanity. By giving your children the tools they require to build a solid foundation of communication and conflict resolution skills, siblings will eventually learn to resolve arguments on their own.
These are skills they will carry into adulthood. Not only will this improve the relationship between your own children, but your children will be better equipped to deal with disagreements between other kids on the playground or at school.