How to tackle the fighting

As I write this, two of my children are fighting for the same turf. The object of desire: a cushy loveseat. Kicking, screaming, hair pulling, pinching -- and soon, there will be accent pillow liftoff. A matching loveseat sits empty. But they're battling over THIS loveseat.

I'm tempted to ignore the “Mom!” calls and blaming of the other, but Nancy Samalin, M.S., director of Parent Guidance Workshops in New York City and author of Loving Each One Best: A Caring & Practical Approach to Raising Siblings, says to step in when things get physical. Here's her advice for taking the in-house bickering down a notch.

The blame game

When siblings fight, parents often try to figure out who's guilty and blame that child. Why do you say this is one of the worst things parents can do?

Samalin: Kids fight to see who you're going to pick (defend, protect, take or favor) and who you're going to pick on. You're encouraging the rivalry and resentment because the kid who gets blamed (often wrongly, especially if parents assume it's the older one who is often innocent) resents his sibling more than he did before you opened your mouth.

Some parents ignore fighting and name-calling because they think the kids should work it out on their own. Is that a good approach?

Samalin: Unless a child is being hurt mentally or physically, try to stay out of it. Many fights start because kids want to get you off the phone, want to get your attention, see whose side you'll take or just to relieve boredom. It's good to ask, "Can you guys work this out or do I have to separate you?" (Kids usually can't wait to be back together again to start a new fight because fighting is never boring and negative attention is better than none.)

If you need to intervene, do it neutrally, without accusing. Make a strong statement such as, "There will be no hurting."

The love-hate connection

What do parents need to understand about sibling rivalry?

Samalin: Kids have strong, ambivalent feelings: One minute they love each other, and the next they hate each other. It's usually temporary. Don't start "futurizing" (they'll never be friends… they'll be fighting over my grave). There are so many positive things about having more than one child.

Tips to soften the sibling squabbles

  • Treat your kids uniquely, not equally. Total fairness is impossible, so treat them according to their needs. For example, if one has a birthday, he's the one entitled to get gifts.
  • Avoid asking, "Who started it?" That question assumes one kid is guilty, and the other is innocent.
  • Notice when they're NOT fighting.
  • Spend time alone with each child.
  • Encourage sharing, but understand it's hard to do.
  • Never compare them out loud to one another.

Hey, moms

What are your tips for curbing sibling battles? Do you step in or stay out? Please share your thoughts and stories in comments below.

More on sibling rivalry

Coping with sibling rivalry
Favoritism and sibling rivalry
Sibling rivalry: The good, the bad and how to deal


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