Hey, that’s mine! When siblings fight

Turn siblings fighting into learning how to negotiate conflict.

Sibling fights may drive parents crazy but they can also be an opportunity to teach children how to negotiate conflict appropriately. Learning to get along with siblings is one of the first opportunities for children to develop skills to appropriately interact with others in social situations.

It is not unusual for young siblings to have up to six quarrels an hour. These conflicts can serve as a training ground for dealing with similar situations in the future. With siblings, there is a tendency of having arguments and risk when sharing our opinions because we feel safe consulting in them. What is learned during these childhood clashes can have long term effects.

It is crucial for parents to teach siblings how to fairly fight and compromise. Parents who consider sibling aggression as normal may miss the opportunity to teach them how to properly resolve clashes, resulting with poor social skills and more conflict as children age. In comparison, children whose parents help them work out their disagreements tend to develop good conflict management skills.

One way parents can teach conflict management with children is by encouraging them to work out their problems themselves while a parent serves as the mediator. Below are steps to do this:

  1. Show respect for their feelings by giving them time to explain their side of what happen.
  • “Boy, you two sound angry with each other!”

       2. Listen carefully so that you can summarize clearly what each child shared.

  • “I see, so you want to build the tower by yourself.”
  • “And, when you saw that, you wanted to build a tower too.”

       3. Show respect for the problem.

  • “This is a tough situation. Two children who both want to play with the same toys at the same time.”

       4. Express that you have confidence in their ability to find a mutually agreeable solution.

  • “Know something? I believe that if the two of you work together, you will be able to find a solution that will work for both of you.”

       5. Leave.

  • “Let me know what you have come up with.”

       6. Provide them a short amount of time to try to work out a solution.

The majority of the time siblings will be able to work out a problem on their own. Problem solving skills is one of the best gifts a parent can give their children; yet, we often swoop in and solve the problem for them. The majority of the time, when given the opportunity with guidance, children will be able to work out the problem together.

Michigan State University Extension offers a multitude of classes and resources on parenting, conflict resolution and violence prevention. For programs near you go to: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/events.

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