Nothing is more time consuming, frustrating, worrisome, and annoying than your children’s sibling rivalry. In an nano second, you fear they will never have any meaningful relationships of any kind. You don’t know what to do to change it, you yell at their behavior and maybe send one or both to their rooms. And it starts all over again. The drain on a parent’s psyche is palpable.
So let’s go through the process and make some changes that will not only get you out of the fray, but will give your children the most important life-long skills they can have.
What happens? You hear the inevitable coming from the other room. You immediately fall into step:
1) You think, When will this ever end, I can’t stand this fighting, Why can’t things ever be peaceful, and you assume, They’re going to grow up hating each other, Why can’t I teach them to get along? I don’t know how to handle this. I have to do stop it.
2) Then you go in to intervene fearing bloodshed or at least escalation if you don’t stop it now.
3) You say something like, What’s going on? Why do you always have to fight? Who started it? You have to stop this now.
4) Then your children start telling you why the other one is at fault. All their complaints fly to you as your children very adeptly make their case, give you evidence, and look to you to place the blame—on the other one.
5) Or one comes running to you telling you about the crime the other has committed.
Then, as a conscientious parent, you take on the responsibility to solve their problem because:
1) You fear they can’t do it themselves
2) They’ll kill each other if you leave them to their own devices
3) You have entered The Triangle Zone
4) and it is your job, isn’t it?
No, it’s not. Whew. What does that do for you?
In so many parenting situations, it’s important to understand boundaries—what is your problem and what isn’t. If it’s your problem to fix your children’s fights and teach them to get along, then who is to blame each time they fight? Right, you. And that’s exhausting and doesn’t help your mood any. You can’t help but feel hopeless because you have set yourself up for failure. You have given yourself an impossible job.
Before handling the situation effectively, you need to convince yourself that their fight is their problem, not yours. That doesn’t mean you coldly wash your hands of it and walk away. Before they can manage their own problems, they need your help. But your job is to be a coach not a referee—objective, not judgmental. Surprisingly, when you hand over the problem to them and relinquish responsibility for solving it, you can be of much more help and hand them the responsibility.
When you enter The Triangle Zone (you at the tip, your kids form the base), and they throw everything toward you as the self-proclaimed judge and jury. You are the one who doles out whatever you think is necessary. Nothing is learned, and whoever thinks they are the one in more trouble tallies the points against the other, and you have unintentionally set up the next sibling fight.
When you let go of that role, you can be far more effective because it’s not about you and what you have to do to get them to see it your way. It becomes about them. It’s about your trust in their capability to manage problems—hence they learn that they are trustworthy and capable.
Try the following:
1) Wait at least 2 minutes longer than you usually do to enter the scene. It will feel like an eternity but, unless you do expect bloodshed, they might surprise you.
2) If the fighting is very physical, get your body between them and yell, “STOP, everyone to your corner.” (At a good time, take your kids into the rooms where fights are likely to break out and have them choose their corners for a time like this.) Wait until emotions are a bit cooler to talk about it.
3) If the fighting is verbal, and the remarks come your way, your job as the coach is to turn the problem back to them. “You need to tell your sister that, not me.” “He needs to hear that. Tell him how you feel.”
4) If you are faced with one running to you, acknowledge the upset and tell her she needs to tell her sibling. If she needs your help, go with her and continue as above.
5) Your job is to be a neutral observer and guide them into figuring out how to solve their problem. Be compassionate and understanding, just not directing. “I can understand how that must feel hurtful. Make sure your sister gets that. What do you need to tell her?” Then to the other, “Yeah, I get how frustrating that must be. Tell your brother, not me. Ask him for what you want.”
6) After they get used to this, the first thing you might try is sticking your head in the room and asking, “Is this fight okay with both of you?” Or “I know you guys can work this out. Come and tell me what you decide.” Then leave.
The rules of Conflict Resolution are:
- Nobody loses, no one gets in trouble
- Each gets uninterrupted time to vent and state their problem (back and forth until they’re done)
- The solution must be agreed on by everyone
You get there by allowing:
• each the uninterrupted opportunity to express their feelings toward the other and to say what they do and do not like and want.
• everyone to suggest solutions (even you). All are written down and taken seriously.
• When you have a list, go over it and cross out all that cannot be agreed to by everyone involved. If nothing is left, come back to it later.
Your goal is to one day hear from the other room, “Shhh! Let’s work it out so Mom doesn’t come in and make us talk about it.”