What comes out of mom’s mouth next? You guessed it. “I don’t care who started it. I want it stopped now!”
Some parents may approach the dispute differently. They may, with good intentions, get sucked into the role of playing detective. In trying to find out who the culprit is, a parent may ask, “What is going on,” only to be bombarded by two kids explaining how they are the victim and how the other child is the guilty party.
After gathering the evidence and establishing which child has the majority of fault, the parent may then dole out the sentence, only to be accused of not being fair or of favoring one child over the other. What an exhausting and unrewarding job to play both detective and judge to solve our kids’ quarrels!
When our kids fight with each other, whose problem is it really? That depends. Are they fighting around me? Because if they are, then it becomes my problem because I am forced to listen to people who are yelling and screaming at each other. For some reason that doesn’t sound enjoyable to me.
Other parents may see sibling rivalry as primarily a kid’s problem. After all, the kids are the ones who are not getting along. These parents decide to stay out of the middle of the fight as much as possible. They may say things like “if you two really want to fight about that I would like you to take the fight where it won’t bother anyone else.” Another parent may say, “Can you two get along or do you need to separate?” Then, if the kids continue to fight, the parent just separates them for a while to restore the peace to the environment. One parent may even say, “I charge a dollar for every minute of fighting I have to listen to. You can pay me with money or your toys, it’s up to you.”
Staying out of the middle of their kids’ fights can be difficult for some parents, especially if they know that one child is usually the instigator. It helps to recognize that two roles are usually being played out in any given fight: the role of the offender, and the role of the victim. When we punish one role, we inadvertently reward the other role. If we send the offender to his room, then we are also teaching the victim that it pays off to be a victim in life. If we punish the victim because of how annoying it is to hear him whine over every little thing, then the perpetrator may think “this is great, I hit my brother and now he is getting sent to his room.”
There may be times where parents need to intervene, such as when one child is physically abusing another child. At that point a parent should discipline the physical aggression. But for the most part, parents may find their lives get easier when they hand the responsibility of getting along with each other back to their kids. This works well for kids ages 7 and older. Younger kids are going to need to see us model how to repair relationships after there has been disruption.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.