Sibling rivalry – conflict between and among brothers and sisters – can take all the forms that occur among adults: loud arguments, sports competition, physical fights, property destruction, etc. As the list suggests, some forms will require parental intervention, while others may be safely left to the kids to work out for themselves.
The first key element in helping brothers and sisters resolve conflicts is to use what is beneficial from adult life, times ten. Children, of all ages above about three or so, are keenly sensitive to issues of justice and fairness.
Like adults, some children will engage in bad behavior based on wrong choices. Rarely do they have the awareness or experience of the moral dimension that adults are capable of, but neither are they (over a certain age) completely unaware of the distinction between [tag-ice]right and wrong[/tag-ice].
How the adult helps them clarify those issues will play a large part in how they develop.
Kids can engage in as many kinds of conflict as adults. Not having full responsibility for their choices, they need the guidance of adults if those conflicts are to be turned to advantage and not simply be a dead loss.
The importance of respect for the safety, property and individual choice of others can serve as a good basis for guiding adults in resolving their children’s conflicts. Just as in the larger society around them, [tag-self]kids[/tag-self] can learn from an early age that there are boundaries no one may reasonably cross.
By the same token, just as in adult interactions, there are some conflicts that it is simply best to ignore, allowing the two parties to resolve on their own. Even [tag-tec]children[/tag-tec] need the space to express thoughts and emotions, and the freedom to take actions based on choices – provided those choices don’t cross the line into physical harm or property destruction.
Naturally, no child younger than a teen can be expected to exhibit the impulse control, nor the intellectual understanding we expect of adults. But avoiding the false alternative of ‘well, kids will be kids’ is equally desirable, if the child is to grow into a mature, healthy adult.
As a case in point, a recent news program carried a story about ‘fight clubs’ – loosely organized (largely male) clubs whose members engaged in physical fights that went well beyond ordinary teen rough housing. The mother of one member who had recently been seriously injured excused her knowledge of the activities by declaring that ‘boys will be boys’. Such casual responses quickly evolve to ‘criminals will be criminals’.
Parents can avoid those results by exploring early on in their children’s lives the roots of conflicts between and among brothers and sisters. Many of the same basic factors that play out in adult rivalry are present from an early age.
Failure to focus on reality over indulgence in whims, difficulty in impulse control or to accept payment for achieving longer term goals by foregoing immediate rewards and many other shortcomings of ’emotional intelligence’ are often at the root of such conflicts.
It isn’t necessary to be harsh or physical, when teaching children that honesty, respect for others and self-control are positive values. Guiding the child to understand that such things are actually in the child’s long-term self-interest will make the child’s nature your ally.
The best way to start demonstrating that is by allowing the child to see that the parents themselves resolve differences in just that way.