By Marli Naidoo
Even the most loving brothers and sisters sometimes fight. It has been found that sibling conflict could break out up to eight times in an hour, that pairs of sisters are inclined to be better friends for each other, and that there will usually be more conflict if one of the siblings is a boy.
Unfortunately there is no magic wand that parents can wave or even a five-point plan that will make conflict between siblings go away. However, there is good news in the fact that these ructions are totally normal and actually contributes to your children’s development. It helps children to figure out what is unique and special about themselves. This process is known as differentiation.
Parents will not be able to eliminate conflict, but there are strategies to lessen the fighting and encourage harmony.
Parents are inclined to protect the younger sibling against the older ones. It is important to stay neutral and treat all the children involved alike. In cases where parents always take one child’s side the relationship is harmed and the siblings will want to spend less time together. Rather ask: “What happened here?” instead of : “Did you hurt your sister again?” Children must feel that you believe the best of each of them.
Children must learn how to handle conflict and solve problems. It is better for parents to try not to interfere as far as possible. Intervene if the conflict becomes violent. A good time for discussing conflict handling is when everybody is calm, not when a fight is going on. Encourage your children to discuss problems without blaming each other and pointing fingers, and to talk about their feelings in a suitable and respectful way.
Children must not feel that parents compare them to each other. Nobody likes to feel that they are being weighed and found wanting. Praise your child for personal accomplishments with regard to themselves and not in comparison to a brother or sister. Every child can feel that she is special in the eyes of her parents.
Talk to your children about the wonderful bond that exists between siblings. Encourage them to build and cherish this bond, to always be there for each other and to act with empathy towards each other.
Parents’ big responsibility is always to be an example that is worth following. Research shows that marital conflict and animosity by a parent towards a child have a negative impact on the relationship between siblings. It is unrealistic to expect everybody to get along. However, parents must do their best to demonstrate good conflict handling to their children. It is unacceptable to be derogatory towards each other or to shout at each other.
Always be on the lookout for positive interactions between your children and praise them for it. It has been found to be more advantageous to siblings than punishment. You can reward them for this good behaviour.
Conflict between siblings usually become less when they become more adult in their teens. So, there is hope in the offing, However, when negative conflict affects everybody negatively or one of your children is suffering under bad treatment by another one, the family should give counselling deep thought.
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/parenting-translator/202107/7-evidence-based-ways-stop-sibling-fighting
The South African College of Applied Psychology: https://www.sacap.edu.za/blog/applied-psychology/sibling-rivalry/
Ask dr Sears: https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/discipline-behavior/bothersome-behaviors/sibling-rivalry/20-tips-stop-quibbling/
Melbourne Child Psychology: https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/how-to-reduce-sibling-rivalry/