Photo by Ashton Bingham on Unsplash
It is a truth universally acknowledged that breaking up sibling fights is a parenting skill that is difficult to master.
And especially when it is an extended lockdown like we have currently due to the dreaded Corona virus, one can’t even ask one sibling to step out for a while. All of us parents are working from home these days, and a sibling fight in the background of an important video call with colleagues or customers can get on one’s nerves. It happened to me, and I am sure it happens to many of you, on a regular basis.
So, what are the best ways to break up sibling fights? Is it an Art or Science? Or a bit of both?
Firstly, why do siblings fight so much? Sometimes it is for the pettiest of reasons such as who’s turn it is to clean up the table after dinner. Some times it is a nasty comment by one towards the other. But within minutes, they forget the fight and cuddle up to each other, especially if they are watching a favourite show on TV or one of the OTT platforms like Prime and Netflix.
Experts say that sibling fights are not really fights, but a certain form of reverse bonding. They might sound or act vicious towards each other in the heat of the moment, but it doesn’t take long for them to patch up too.
For parents, however, sibling fights are quite stressful because one never knows when a fight could begin and what it could lead to. And especially if the entire family is locked up indoors during times like the current one, these sibling fights could become quite a nuisance. Children need to expend their energy and the lockdown affects that. So, there could be these reasons as well for the tempers flaring more often than usual.
Some basic advice from the article above:
Here’s what to do when a fight breaks out:
- Stop the fight before the crying starts. This might require physically separating your children, or sending them to opposite sides of the room to settle down.
- Keep your cool. This might sound impossible, but the idea is not to make things worse. Try to save your energy for giving positive feedback on behaviour that you want to encourage.
- Tell children you’ll talk about it later. Children are often too upset to take in what you’re saying at first. Wait until things cool down before you talk about the issue. This could even be the next day with older children.
Centre for Parenting Education has a lengthy post on the topic with some useful insights such as the below:
- Remember that sibling rivalry is inevitable to some degree.
It does not mean that there is something wrong with your children or with the way you are parenting.
- Children gain some benefits from the fighting.
Even though it seems so pointless to you, the fighting and bickering do offer your children opportunities to learn life skills.
- Let go of the idea that you can eliminate sibling rivalry.
You will be in a stronger position to manage the fighting and bickering when you give up any images of a totally harmonious relationship between your children.
- Be aware of how your parents handled rivalry between you and your siblings.
This can help you to discard those approaches that you now see were not helpful and to be more intentional in using those approaches which you see were effective.
Parenting blogger Emily Sullivan just published a post at the New York Times on this topic, where she asked for advice to break up sibling fights (she has twin girls) from a bouncer, a referee and a therapist. It is a good read too.
An excerpt, where Emily follows the advice from the bouncer with some success 🙂
“I tried the Manchester doorman method when an argument broke out in my kitchen. I was preparing steak and risotto, and my mini sous chefs started bickering in high-pitched whines over which one would help chop the mushrooms and which would be stuck plucking thyme leaves from the stems. I whipped my head around and mustered all the menace I had. I felt like Zoolander but apparently looked like Cruella de Vil — Penny took the stance of a soldier at attention and Layla burst into tears.”
The article also links to an earlier post on the NYT Parenting section that advices mediation as the best long term solution.
So, what has worked for you or didn’t? How do you cope with sibling fights at home? Share any best practices or anecdotes and earn the gratitude of fellow parents.