Curbing Sibling Conflict

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I am peacefully driving my car and humming along with tunes on the radio. From the backseat, I hear my daughter whine, “Mommmm! I didn’t do anything and he’s pinching me again.” I look in the rear view mirror to see my son’s well-crafted look of hurt innocence. He complains, “She kicked me first. Anyway, I barely touched her, she’s just trying to get me into trouble.” I know sibling conflict is normal, developmental and often fades. What I don’t know is if I will ever be able to shrug my shoulders and ignore it. For me, its like nails on a chalkboard.

To keep my sanity as the primary caretaker, I use short-term strategies to curb the battles between my children. When an argument ensues in the car, I park on the side of the road and wait quietly for the skirmish to stop.  Eventually, they notice the lack of motion and desist.  If they don’t stop fighting at the dinner table, I employ the wisdom of that old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” and I invoke a talking ban for five or ten minutes. Sometimes, I separate myself from the bickering by taking a calming shower. Unfortunately, my children have discovered that secret ploy and come in the bathroom to argue.

Clearly, for the greater good, my husband and I must teach our offspring long-term strategies to work out their differences. Although not always consistent in our efforts, we are learning how to help them cope. One such tactic we’ve used is to model behavior we’d like them to adopt, like asking for what one wants without slinging accusations. Another is to play mediator, giving them a safe space and appropriate words to discuss issues that crop up. We encourage the use of please, thank you and I’m sorry to help “mend fences”. Our incentive plan works wonders to underscore the lessons we seek to impart. They get “happy” points, leading to a toy purchase, for impulsive acts of kindness and respect toward each other.

My older brother and I argued incessantly as children. We persisted with this behavior until we were forced to work out our challenges as adults sharing an apartment. Now, we have a trusting and harmonious relationship. He is a precious link to my heritage and shares many of the values and experiences passed down from our parents that have made me who I am today. If history is any indication of how my children’s relationship will evolve, they will eventually appreciate each other for the very special bond they have. Until then, I may need to invest in a good pair of earmuffs!