In a previous article I gave some suggestions on how to cope with sibling squabbling and I hinted at the fact that there is actually an up-side to our children’s bickering. I know, some of you think I have really lost my marbles this time.
Believe it or not, there is a positive side to sibling squabbling. And whether or not we make use of it depends on our attitude.
Yes, the bickering and screaming is annoying, and yes, dealing with it is often a hassle.
But it would help a whole lot if we looked at each fight as a teachable moment and an opportunity for character building. We need to have the goal of making each fight a lesson in self-control and charity. I know that can be really, really hard. Yet I’m convinced this is the only long-term solution.
To make each squabble a teachable moment, start with yourself. When your kids are fighting, try to be calm (Yes, that’s really hard, too. But try anyways.) Remind yourself that even if your child is screaming bloody murder and you’re heart is racing, the incident is actually not a big deal. It just feels like one. You want to use the moment to teach and not simply get over this inconvenient hassle as fast as you can. So what do you teach?
Teach self-control. Remind your children that they don’t need to scream in order to be heard. If they persist on yelling, send them to their rooms until they calm down. If you start yelling, leave the scene until you calm down.
Teach your children how to manage their anger. Give realistic guidelines. My kids are allowed to express their anger by stomping their feet or punching the couch or bed. But they are not allowed to hit a sibling or throw things. When they do, there are consequences.
Teach them how to manage the situation. Sometimes my kids get frustrated because they just don’t know how to handle a situation. So, they lash out. Teach your kids what they should do when a sibling is being annoying or when they sense a fight coming on. First they should try to work it out, and if they can’t they should leave the situation or get help from a parent. (Getting help from a parent is not tattle-taling. Tattle-taling is when you tell on a kid with the plan of getting him into trouble. Getting help from a parent means a child needs help working out a dispute. The two may look the same, but the child’s intent is very different.)
Teach your kids how to negotiate and compromise. When your children reach the age of reason, encourage them to work out their disagreements on their own. You might have to model this and have them play-act some scenarios. Then show confidence in your children’s abilities to solve their differences. I know you kids are smart enough to work this out on your own.
Finally, teach your children how to apologize and forgive. If an offense is really egregious, make your child write a letter of apology, where he includes a list of positive traits about the offended sibling, states how he will make it up, and asks for forgiveness. All apologies should end with, “Do you forgive me?” This makes for a more sincere, humble apology. Then, remind the child who was offended that even if he still feels angry, he can choose to forgive. One admirable trait that most children have is that they easily forgive, so don’t let them get into the habit of holding grudges. Encourage your kids to say the words, “I forgive you” and offer a hug or handshake.
In order for a quarrel to become a teaching moment, you need to be as fair as possible. Unless it’s clear that one child was the perpetrator and the other was totally innocent, don’t take sides. Children have a keen sense of fairness, and if you always side with one sibling, they will begin to feel outraged and resentful. Usually, both parties are at fault and need to be corrected.
Some kids almost always insist that they are right. Usually, they’re the strong-willed, choleric ones. No matter how fair you try to be, they will insist that you’re not being fair. So, when you have to mediate, patiently listen to everyone’s point of view and repeat their points of view so they know you heard them. Sometimes just giving children an opportunity to vent their anger is enough to calm them down. Then make the best judgement call that you can. Don’t get into a long, drawn-out argument, trying to convince your headstrong child that you are fair and/or he was wrong. Make your decision final, carry it out, and be done with it. Do not get into a fight over a fight. And don’t worry if your kids say you’re not being fair. If you’ve done your best to make a fair decision, stick with it. As long as your kids see (in the long run or in hind sight) that you are trying to be fair and you’re not playing favorites, they will eventually accept your decisions. Chances are, an hour later, they will have forgotten the incident anyways.
If it seems that your kids are forever fighting, remember that children are a work in progress. They are diamonds in the rough who need the heat and friction of daily rubs and clashes with other children before they can sparkle and shine. Every squabble is an opportunity to teach our children to grow in kindness and consideration for others. It’s also an opportunity for us to grow in patience!
Sure, there will be times when we mess up those opportunities. There will be times when we lose our tempers or make unfair calls. Let’s persevere anyways. Then, as our children mature, the bickering will subside and our kids will grow in mutual love and respect for each other.
Mary Cooney is a homeschooling mother of five and former pianist living in Maryland. She blogs at Mercy for Marthas where this article was first published.