Why can’t they get along?
Nothing grates on parents’ nerves quite so much as the sounds of sibling fighting coming from the next room—unless it’s the shouts of “Moooommmmm, he hit me!” that often follow. While the occasional disagreement is normal, and even healthy, true sibling fighting is a highly emotional issue that can negatively impact family relationships, even into the adult years. So, why can’t our children just get along?
This may not be music to your ears, but the fact is that parents are often to blame in unknowingly encouraging sibling fighting. With a few tweaks to your parenting style, however, you can make a big difference in family harmony.
Let’s begin by becoming more aware of two seemingly innocent things parents do to intensify rivalry. In my next post, we’ll talk about three strategies for dealing with kids fighting.
Two Things Parents Do to Contribute to Sibling Fighting
1. Use Labels – Spoken or Implied
Whenever we label our kids, using terms such as “the smart one” or “the wild one,” we lay the groundwork for sibling fighting. For instance, if you call Little Brother the “family athlete,” then you can bet Big Brother will feel like he’s the opposite of that. Or if Big Sister is the “problem child,” then Little Sister will probably be feeling pretty superior as the well-behaved one. Whether the label is positive or negative, it’s a recipe for a fight as kids struggle with the comparisons you’ve put in place.
Sometimes labels aren’t spoken—they’re implied. One example of this is a “go-to” kid. This is the child you consistently approach for help when you want something important done quickly and without a fuss. While the go-to-kid feels important, by over-relying on him you imply to your other children that they aren’t as capable, which in turn leads to undue competition.
2. Reinforce “Victim” and “Aggressor” Roles
As parents, we often feel like it’s our job to sort out the “victim” in a disagreement, as well as the “aggressor.” In order to make sure justice is served, we soothe the “victim” with hugs and kind words, while sending the “aggressor” to her room with a “you should know better” reprimand. However, this type of treatment does neither child any good.
Showering the “victim” with attention lets him know that acting as the weaker player in the argument (whether he really is or not) will get him lots of attention—and you can be sure he’ll repeat his performance another time. Meanwhile, the “aggressor” gets it confirmed that there’s power in being the bully—and you’ll see her behavior repeated as well.
Fortunately, there are more helpful strategies for dealing with sibling fighting that don’t reinforce the “victim” and “aggressor” roles—and instead teach them how to resolve their own conflicts in the future. We’ll cover these in the next post. In the meantime, you can begin to improve family dynamics simply by taking a good look at how you compare and respond to the sibling fighting in your house.