Discourage Fighting Between Siblings

Gwen Randall-Young

Many parents that I work with have expressed concern about the fighting that goes on between siblings. There is some confusion, because on the one hand we are told that sibling rivalry or conflict is normal, but on the other hand we may not like the aggression that ensues. We may even rationalize that we fought with our siblings, and we turned out all right, so maybe we are worrying unnecessarily. Sometimes aggression is unconsciously encouraged, when parents feel that one child “deserved” what he got from another. In this confusion, the children may get mixed messages from parents as well as inconsistent responses.

If we stop to really think about it, there is no reason why children should be hitting one another or engaging in verbal abuse. Perhaps if they were taught from the very beginning that you do not hurt others with your hands or your words, then we would not have the levels of abuse that we do among the adult population.

Children are taught, and learn, not to run out into the street, and not to play with matches. These are basics which most parents succeed in teaching their children at an early age. Certainly, if the same effort and consistent teaching was used in the area of sibling abuse, children would learn that just as well.

One of the problems that arises of course, is when the parents themselves hit the children, and verbally abuse them, or a spouse. In this case the children are being shown a way of managing anger which simply will not serve them in this world. Children who are aggressive with siblings will carry that same behavior to the classroom and the playground, and into adult relationships.

If we are to survive as a species, we need to turn the tide of conflict and violence. This must begin in the home, and with our children. We must teach them peaceful ways to resolve conflict, and we must be willing to practice these ways ourselves. We must model safe ways of dealing with our anger.

No matter what the situation in any family, it is never too late to begin new ways of being. While it would be nice to have the support and involvement of all family members, even if one person begins to shift to more positive ways of dealing with conflict, all will be affected.

So go ahead and tell your children that from now on fighting will not be allowed in your house. Explain that everyone should be able to feel safe in their own home, and that your job is to ensure that safety. Give them alternate strategies to replace the old behaviours and support them while they are learning them.

And if, one day, they call you on your own behavior, you will know that you have really succeeded.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.