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Silbling Squabbles

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Why do siblings fight? Children fight for many reasons: control over personal 
space and belongings, lack of social experience, need for attention, trying out 
new roles, boredom, and just for fun. (Cultures differ in the amount and kind of 
sibling squabbling, particularly outside the family and in public, but some sibling 
conflict and rivalry is a near universal phenomenon.) The bickering often makes us 
feel like bad parents — particularly when it happens in public. We are not bad 
parents of course, but if we can begin to see these situations as learning 
opportunities for our children instead of punishable moments, we will feel less 
stressed and we may even be able to avoid some of the squabbles.
Sometimes, we think that a happy, healthy family never argues, and that’s just not 
the case. Imagine never disagreeing with your spouse. Can we eliminate the arguing 
altogether? “You can try to keep the peace 100 percent of the time, but you'll 
fail,” says Dr. Robert Fox, Director of the Marquette University School of 
Education Parenting Center. “There are different temperaments among children,” 
says Fox. “Some children simply demand more attention. You can go out of your way 
to balance things out by spending equal amounts of time and attention on each child 
but it's not going to work.” Giving each child the attention he needs when he needs 
it is a more reasonable goal. In other words, fair is not always equal. “Just 
getting out the door, everyone dressed and backpacks in hand is enough of a 
challenge for most of us.”
According to Millie Ferrer and Sara McCrea of the University of Florida, the goal 
for parents is not to rescue their children when they are fighting, but to help 
them learn to resolve their differences. Parents can equip their children with the 
skills and attitudes needed for a fulfilling relationship. This is not always easy 
to do, but here are some suggestions:
Teach Supportive Communication
Help children work out their differences by listening to them and identifying 
their feelings. When a fight starts, children might feel many emotions, such as 
anger, frustration, loneliness, sadness, jealousy, or disappointment. Begin by 
acknowledging your children's feelings toward each other, e.g. “You both sound 
really angry at each other.” Listen to each child's side without making judgments 
of who is right or wrong. Recognize the difficulty of the situation and express 
faith in their ability to work things out.
Focus on Each Child's Talents
Each child is a special and unique person. Children also need to know that the 
contributions they make to the family are valued. By focusing on the positive 
talents each child possesses, parents can build the child's confidence which can 
lead to stronger family relationships.
Avoid Comparing Children
Children who are compared will often feel resentful and angry both toward their 
sibling and us. Avoid using statements such as:
* “Why can't you be more like______?” (Sister or brother's name)
* “He never makes those mistakes, why do you?”
* “Let _______ help you; he does that so well.”
* “__________ never had these problems; why do you?”
Statements such as these can make children feel unloved. They might also feel that 
they have failed you. Tell your child directly what you want or expect of her 
without comparing her to her brother. For example, “I want you to finish your 
chores before going out to play.”
Use Positive Reinforcement
Parents are role models for their children. If we want our children to be loving 
toward one another, then we must praise that behavior when it happens, e.g. “You 
guys worked as a team, you picked up all the toys before the timer finished.” When 
we praise positive interactions, the likelihood of the behavior reoccurring is 
Here are a few more practical ideas that may help:
* "Chore Equals Privilege." If your children regularly fight over who has to sit in 
the back of the van or who gets to decide what the family movie will be, tie the 
choice to a chore that rotates among them. For example, whoever has to do the 
dishes for the week gets to pick the movie. It takes any hint of favoritism out of 
the equation, and when children understand the parameters, they often cooperate 
* The “No Sharing” Box. Allow your children to choose a few things that they don't 
have to share if they don't want to. Let them decorate a shoebox or a plastic 
container to reflect that the items stored within are special. Make sure everyone 
in the household, babysitters, visiting friends, and relatives understand that the 
child doesn't have to share the contents of the box.
* Teamwork. Assign your children jobs and games where they have to work together. 
Forcing the issue of cooperation helps them to experience the unique gifts of their 
siblings, as well as build an understanding of how much they can accomplish by 
working together toward a common goal.
* Ignore Simple Arguments. Do what you can to let children work it out on their 
own. Working at resolving their own battles can teach them valuable life skills, so 
walk away and ignore it if you can. Intervene only when the fight gets out of 
* Think Switzerland. It's important that we remain neutral. As tempting as it is 
to blame the older sibling, talk to both children calmly without assuming either 
is in the wrong.
The only way to completely avoid sibling rivalry is to have just one child, and 
for many of us, it may be too late for that.
Marcia Arpin continues to write and illustrate several articles for newsletters,
newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites each month. Do you need Marcia's
great ideas to enhance you publication? Email her today: allthedaze@gmail.com
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