Two paths for handling sibling conflict

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by Joy Dombrow
Oregon Blogger

Last week, I mentioned four practices for crowding our sibling rivalry. I truly believe that if we as parents spend 85% our time and energy creating a loving home environment, that we will only need to deal with sibling spats the other 15% of the time. However, let me be clear, that the 15% will occur. The fact that sibling rivalry is natural means that fighting, bickering, tattling, and arguing will sneak into our homes uninvited and unannounced. But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean we can allow it to settle into a state of normalcy. It must be addressed. So, what is a parent to do? Each individual situation is unique, but there are some basic principles and guidelines for when your children start to argue.

1. If the event is minor, and it is not breaking one of the basic rules of respect for your home, simply let them work it out.

In fact, encourage them to do so. Let natural consequences regarding their relationship run their course and don’t always come to their rescue to solve the problem. They need to learn how to solve their own problems. They need to realize that if they treat others with disrespect they will lose the opportunity to play. They need to see how their actions cause reactions in others. This is not to say that you are not present. Get involved when it is a matter of physical and emotional safely, or for the purpose of training their character. One way to do this is to step close to the children while they are fighting and tell them that you will give them a few more minutes to work it out on their own. After that, you will have to solve it for them and it probably won’t be a fun solution for either child.

2. If the event is major, take action.

First and foremost, we must stop any hurtful behaviors…name calling, insults, or physical harm. Then we must acknowledge and validate their feelings. Empathy statements like, “You must really be angry. I can understand why you would feel that way” go a long way in disarming the child while labeling the emotion behind the behavior. This simple step will help children to identify their own feelings in the future so that they can manage them appropriately. It also communicates love and understanding.

After this, we can show children how to deal with their hurt (which is usually the emotion hidden behind the anger) in an appropriate way. Teaching them to use their words in a constructive way, walking away from the situation, or telling the appropriate adult are all strategies that they can use. Sometimes consequences are necessary, and a little thought behind such consequences can make for very effective training tools (Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel is an excellent resource for ideas).

Finally, we must lead our children through the conflict to the resolution. Once all parties have been heard, character training enacted, and the issues sorted out, we must teach our children to say (and respond to) these seven words: “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” to both their sibling and their God. I usually then ask them to do something to show me that they are still friends…a hug or a handshake usually wins out.

Although conflict among our children comes naturally, the proper handling of the conflict must be taught. Instead of looking at our children’s arguments as frustrations to be tolerated, let’s look at them as opportunities to teach them life skills and to root out heart issues of jealousy and selfishness. Throughout the entire process, we can teach their hearts as we handle sibling conflicts with grace, wisdom and love.

Do you struggle with sibling rivalry in your home? How do you handle the conflicts when they arise?