News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

     (Or How to Have a Semi-Peaceful Summer With Siblings)

  I probably look forward to summer as much as my children do. Just not having to rush them out the door for school and not having the pressure of homework and instrument practices hanging over our heads is a joy. The days seem so carefree, almost lighter. That is, until the first fight breaks out and you look at the clock and realize it is only 8:00 a.m. of the first day of summer vacation! Oh, it’s going to be a long summer!

  How quickly we forget that no school means our children are in contact with each other more, which inevitably means more fighting, bickering and yelling. Now I remember why I liked the school year so much and why by August we are so ready to send our kids back. It’s the fighting and the yelling from the other room that drives us crazy. “Mom!!!! He won’t leave me alone!” “She started it!” “Did not!” “Did too!” “Mom!!!!” “Will you two cut it out?!!” Help! They’re driving me crazy and it’s only 8:02 a.m. How can we turn this into a summer of peace and tranquility instead of one filled with sibling battles?

  Reality Check
  Sometimes one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the fact that sibling rivalry is inevitable. In fact, it makes sense if you think about the nature of their relationship. Our children are forced to co-exist, forced to get along and forced to share almost everything including the one thing that means more to them than anything else. I’m not talking about the TV, but you, the parent. Our children crave our attention and our time and when fights break out, they also beg for us to take their side. That can be really hard especially when you have two or more children crying out for you to fix it and better yet, make it so they each “win”. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

  The good news is that it really is normal for siblings to fight. It can even be healthy for them to do so as long as no one is getting hurt. Think about all the benefits our kids get from not getting along. They learn negotiation skills and how to compromise, they become more resilient after weathering the battles, they learn to assert themselves and defend themselves. They learn about feelings and relationships, and they also learn when they have gone too far. This is all knowledge that will benefit them throughout life.

  How to Make Peace With the Wars
  One really helpful way parents can make peace with the bickering is simply to ignore it. Yes, you heard me correctly. For the most part, when our children are bickering, they don’t require our help in settling the dispute. That doesn’t mean they don’t want it, just that they don’t need it. Unfortunately, the bickering is the hardest to ignore. It must be the tone of voice or the pitch that just gets under our skin and pushes us to storm into the middle of it and make it stop. It is surprising how many of those little bickering episodes go on during the day and how many do just fizzle out on their own if we can just stay out of it. Try it. Next time the kids bicker, imagine relaxing on a sunny beach instead of actually heading into battle.

  So what is a parent to do when the fighting goes beyond bickering, when the words get a little too hurtful or physical force is being used? Barbara Coloroso, in her book Kids Are Worth It, states that we should try to view our children’s fighting and conflict as “a challenge and embrace it as an opportunity to grow and change.” Sounds noble, doesn’t it? What could we possibly embrace about our kids fighting? I often tell parents when it comes to handling situations with our children, “It’s all in the approach.” Instead of trying to punish our children for fighting, we can use their episodes of conflict to teach them how to fight fairly and how to problem solve. We can also use those times when our kids are out of control to teach them about anger management and how to cool off when they get too angry. Again, these are all skills that will come in handy throughout their lives.

  Tips for Embracing Those Opportunities

  ·  Establish rules about relationships in your family and make sure everyone knows them. For example, setting rules about name-calling and hitting and explaining why those rules are in place can be really helpful. Think about what rules can be made around personal property and respect for each other. It can be helpful too if these rules are made during a moment of calm, like at a family meeting.

  ·  If you have to step into a fight, don’t take sides and don’t ask who started it. These are two things that get you nowhere but more involved than you might want to be. It helps to take a more neutral stance instead and simply acknowledge what you see. “You two are really having a rough time in here.” Instead of finding out how a fight got started, concentrate on how to work it out.

  ·  Take a moment to assess the situation and ask yourself, “What do my children need to learn here?” Do they need to be reminded of the rules? Do they need help finding more respectful words to express how they are feeling? For example, instead of name-calling a sibling, we could teach them to say, ”I don’t like it when…you change the TV channel in the middle of my show.” Sounds much better than, “You stupid jerk.”

  ·  Teach your children how to explore a problem so that they can work towards a solution. Start by describing the problem, identifying each person’s point of view and brainstorming options for solving it. The nice thing is that as our children get older we can trust in their ability to work out solutions themselves without our help. What an empowering message we send when we say we trust them to work it out.

  ·  And most importantly, when you feel like safety is being jeopardized, separate the children. Our job as parents, first and foremost, is to keep our children safe even if that means from each other. Once we have done that, then we can go back to explore the problem and find healthier options for handling anger.

  Okay, so it is only the beginning of the summer. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all. If you are lucky your children will give you many, many opportunities to embrace the challenges of the sibling wars and help them to grow from them. Just remember, it’s all in the approach.

By: Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator

June 2002
Vol. 4/ No.7
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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