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Believe it or not, sibling rivalry is an important part of our children’s growth. While we, as moms, hate to hear our kids argue and not get along, it helps our children develop the capacity to deal with conflict in a safe setting. Let’s face it, being a kid is hard! Not only are they still learning how to deal with their emotions surrounding conflict, they are asked to do it in a mature manner at school. I am always amazed at the situations that my kids are dealing with at school with their peers. Not all of these interactions are pleasant. I want my children to be able to stand up for themselves in an appropriate way. They learn that day-to-day with each other.
Stages of Sibling Rivalry
In my experience, there are various stages of sibling rivalry. And at each stage, our interactions as moms must change and adapt as well. For instance, as toddlers, we should supervise and intervene, while at the teen-age level, we act more like more of a referee!
At the toddler stage, our children aren’t self-aware. They don’t understand how their actions affect others. So when there is an argument between our children at this age, it’s our job to jump in. We should explain what went wrong in the situation and educate our children on the proper way to handle it next time. For example, if your toddler’s are arguing over a toy, it’s your job as the parent to let them know that they should share the toy (Sharing is Caring!) and that they each can have 5 minutes with the toy, which is fair.
It’s a difficult lesson for little ones to learn. And they will probably forget the lesson in a matter of minutes! However, as you continue to step into these arguments, simply explain situations and offer simple solutions, they begin to build the knowledge on how to deal with disagreements in a more productive manner.
Grammar School Stage
As our children enter the grammar school years, they should already have some knowledge of how to deal with conflict. This, for many, will be their first opportunity to put their knowledge to use. Let’s face it, kids can be cruel! I have seen first-hand how mean kids can be and you want your child to be able to approach conflict at school with confidence and composure. The more moments of education they have had with siblings or play dates, the better equipped they will be when they start school.
At home, we should continue to intervene in conflicts between our children, but as we begin to feel that our children have built the capacity to deal with conflict on their own, we have to let them figure it out for themselves. As a mom, it’s difficult to determine when that is. We are the care-takers, the ones who make it all better, and knowing when to just stay out of it is a big learning curve for us.
In my personal experience, I can say that I was definitely one who jumped in a little to much and a little longer than I needed to. It was difficult for me to realize that my children had built the skills they needed, and that they needed to practice them. The only thing I hear is argument, and I desperately want them to get along, so I try to solve it for them. However, this was not allowing them to grow their conflict management skills.
Pre-teen / Teenage
This is where is gets really interesting, and the stage I am in at my house right now! For the most part, I try to just let them hash out their differences on their own. I literally have to tell myself, ‘Let them figure it out!‘, take a deep breath and go back to doing what I was doing. I listen, of course, to make sure they are being respectful and not physical. If I do hear this going on, then that is where I jump in to discuss the appropriate way to disagree. Name calling, put downs, yelling/screaming or getting physical are not acceptable. I take this opportunity to have a discussion about ‘how’ to come to resolution, but leave it up to them to find resolution themselves.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t happen all the time. There are definitely times and jump in the middle of an argument and point out who is wrong about what to just shut it down. Sometimes, I just can’t deal with the arguing. There are other times where is so clear who is ‘in the right’ and who is ‘in the wrong’, I want to just squash it. But again, I have to try to bite my lip and let them figure it out for themselves. It’s important to me that they learn how to stand up for themselves when they know they are right.
There are also times that after their argument ends, I take the opportunity independently to talk to each of them about how they could have handled it better. Once everyone has calmed down, my ‘mom’ insight it usually better received.
In our house, we also have the added complexity of having half-siblings. All three of our children have the same father, and I am only ‘birth’ mom to 2. Growing up, when there is the additional layer of one sibling being home for a period of time, then being gone for a period of time, it can be confusing to all the children. When it comes to sibling rivalry with half siblings, there is usually extra caution taken, especially when it comes to the step-parent. Many times, even if you are being impartial, you will be immediately perceived as taking the ‘side’ of your naturally born child. The best advice I can offer to moms in this position, is to deal with all situations as equally as you can. Be impartial, give knowledge on handling conflict, and know you did the right thing. In the long run, if you consistently do this, the result will be a positive one.
8-year age gap
Many times, if there is a large age-gap with our kids, our assumption is that they will not argue as much because they may not be interested in the same things at the same time. This is not a fair and true assumption. At any age, as children are trying to figure out who they are as people, their place in the world, and their place in the household, there will be conflict. It’s important at this point, however, to recognize the age difference and expect the appropriate level of interaction. For instance, if your 5-year old and your 13-year-old are arguing about what’s on TV, it’s appropriate for the 13-year-old to handle the situation in a more mature manner, and possible that your 5-year-old may have a tantrum. This is where you step in with each of them and discuss the appropriate way to handle the conflict, and it’s also appropriate to expect more from the 13-year-old.
Remember, that as parents, our goal should be to raise our kids to be a positive, contributing members of society. There are so many skills that they need to learn as they grow and conflict management is one of them. As difficult as it is to let them ‘hash out’ their differences, by letting them do so, you are giving them the gift of being able to not only deal with disagreement, but also build their confidence.
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