Fighting Sibs: Should parents even bother to intervene?!

Keeping his brother from accidently becoming one of the Children of the Corn
Keeping his brother from accidently becoming one of the Children of the Corn

I think a lot about the relationship between my two sons. A lot. I want them to be friends, but I know siblings fight. I don’t want to constantly intervene, because I think one of the gifts of having siblings is practicing how to problem solve and compromise, but I don’t want them to think it’s okay for one boy to bully the other one or always get his way. I want them to share, but I don’t want to force them to do so.

It’s no secret that I love the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Elanie Mazlish and Adele Faber. I have found that this book does a great job of helping me identify what’s normal and okay with sibling rivalry and when I should put a stop to what’s occurring. Now that my boys are getting older, I refer back to this one quite often. What I like most is the idea that sibling relationships matter, and that they’re aren’t always automatic. Kids aren’t necessarily instant BFFs. Kids from the same family have different personalities, and it’s our job as parents to teach them how to handle that and still have a good relationship. Think of the implications this skill would have on their adult life!

Mazlish and Faber sum it up as follows:

“Children should have the freedom to resolve their own differences. Children are also entitled to adult intervention when necessary. If one child is being abused by the other, either physically or verbally, we’ve got to step in. If there’s a problem that’s disrupting the entire household, we’ve got to step in. If there’s a problem that keeps coming up that hasn’t yielded to their solutions, we’ve got to step in. But here’s the difference: We intervene, not for the purpose of settling their argument or making a judgement, but to open the blocked channels of communication so they can go back to dealing with each other.” (p. 160)

In fact, a recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “Bullying of Brothers and Sisters Should Not Be Ignored” echos this sentiment. Parents should take an interest in sibling relationships, and they should ensure that none of the children involved is being hurt or bullied. In fact, “…parents, pediatricians and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful, and not dismiss it as normal, minor, or even beneficial, and this message should be included in parenting education.” Kids fight…but parents should keep an eye on this fighting and help solve the problems if needed, not simply stop the fighting.

What I don’t think accomplishes this goal is the recent trend towards “forced bonding”, though I’d argue it doesn’t result in any real bonding. The internet photos of angry kids stuffed in a giant “Get Along” tee-shirt together, stories of parents handcuffing their kids together until they “learned to be friends” (I’m not making this stuff up!!), kids ordered to “hug it out” when they fight– these miss the mark. Our goal, for their sanity and ours, should be to teach them how to settle their differences…not to simply send the message that their argument doesn’t matter and they should just keep quiet and pretend to like each other.

So, parents of multiple kids, try to keep in mind, when you hear the constant background noise this summer of “Noooo…NOOOO! It’s MY turn! Noooo!” that sibling bonds are sometimes a complicated thing. However, with plenty of practice and the occasional parent intervention, kids can not only learn to live with each other, but may gain some really useful skills for their adult life while they’re at it.

4 thoughts on “Fighting Sibs: Should parents even bother to intervene?!

  1. Thanks, Jen. Your kiddos seem different like mine do which does make it hard. When you have on kid who just wants to smother the other with hugs and kisses and one who wants space (both equally valid things), it’s tough to teach them both that you have to respect the other person but not just do whatever they tell you to do. And Josh, at 2, has MASTERED the art of the fake cry to get his big bro in trouble. Mastered it.

  2. This is great advice, stuff that I’ll probably come back to. So far I tend to just leave them alone to settle things unless someone is crying in a way that means that they are actually hurt OR if I hear words that are particularly hateful. I want them to be close, too, just like everyone does, but I can’t force that. It makes sense that learning how to handle differences now will definitely serve them well in the future.

  3. It is such a hard balance isn’t it??? I so desperately want my kids to have a close life-long relationship, but OMG THEY DRIVE EACH OTHER CRAZY. Great post, great topic.

    1. The balance is really hard. I also live in fear of creating tattle-tales. Nothing sounds like nails on a chalkboard than kids screaming “but he STARTED IT! He’s not following the ruuuuules! He’s bothering meeee!” AH.

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