Siblings fight all the time, starting at three years old to as old as you can imagine. Tensions rise and cause cracks in relationships. We tend to hold more resentment when it’s a fight against a family member with who we share a history of our whole being with, from childhood to the present. While we should let siblings resolve fights on their own, there comes a time that parents should already step up and help ease the tension.
Different age groups fight for different reasons and must also be approached with care differently.
Children (3 to 12 years old)
Children at this age still don’t know how to manage and control their emotions. It usually starts with shouting then hitting mindlessly without full awareness of pain being inflicted. At this age, they also yearn for their parents’ attention that they might feel in competition with their siblings. They also have a skewed view of a situation, only having the capability to see their perspective alone. According to raisingchildren.net.au, we are each born with our own temperaments, meaning the way we react and behave towards the world. Some are flexible; some are shy. Some are able to manage anger and stay calm while some have less control. Some are assertive; some will keep to themselves. Fights come up when different temperaments clash.
Children at 3 to 7 years old have a tendency to fight physically while children aged 8 to 12 years old may resort to fights of more verbal nature.
Teenagers (13 to 19 years old)
Children at this age will have more verbal fights than violent ones. They would argue as much as when they were younger. The younger sibling may feel that his or her independence is being intruded by an older sibling who assumes authority. At this age, teenagers want to distinguish themselves from their siblings in terms of likes and interests. Raisingchildren.net.au lists down equality and fairness, personal space, possessions, and friends as the most common areas of conflict.
Grown Adults (20 years old and above)
Fights at this age often lead to estrangement or one side choosing to keep mum and apart from another. According to Reader’s Digest, there is only less than 5 percent of the American population that accounts for completely estranged siblings. But in a survey done by Oakland University, only 26 percent of adults aged 18 to 65 years old have highly supportive sibling relationships, 19 percent are apathetic and 16 percent are hostile. Most estrangements stem out of hostile siblings and grievance collectors. Conflicts are usually about the sibling’s partner, care arrangement for aging parents, unresolved issues from childhood, different priorities, and lack of communication.
How to Avoid
1. Have a close relationship with each one of your kids. In parenting, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Show your kids that you love them individually and give your undivided attention to them one-on-one.
2. Don’t fight in front of your children or somewhere where they can hear. Children mimic the behavior that they observe so if you and your partner are bickering within sight or hearing distance, they will most likely adapt this bickering attitude.
3. Don’t use labels or compare one kid to another. Say, for example, do not label Chris as “the funny one” and Connor as “the smart one.” This creates unwanted pressure to live up to such labels and also leads to unhealthy comparisons. Get rid of “I wish you were calmer like your sister” in your vernacular. Never compare or pit two siblings against each other.
4. Do individual and shared activities at home. Let your daughter shine at what she does best and your son to do his thing without comparing one to the other. You may also find a shared activity that you can bond with such as movie nights or drawing sessions.
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5. Use positive language and affirmation at home. Build confidence and instill love in your kids by always affirming them and using positive language at all times, even when reprimanding or giving life advice.
6. Open communication channels. Always ask your children if they want you to interfere in a fight or misunderstanding. Let them solve it on their own and only enter the picture if it becomes violent. If dealing with children who are already grown adults, a parent, when asked, my butt in by making a way for estranged siblings to patch things up.
7. Talk about a fight with calm heads. To prevent a fight of similar nature to happen again, make sure to talk about it with your children when the heat of emotions has subsided and they have cooler heads. Make sure each one is understood and heard. You may write down what each one felt in a journal so that all of you would have a better understanding of one another in the future and see this fight as another learning experience. Young kids are taught to solve problems, empathize and communicate.
8. Prepare consequences for all the kids. It is very important for the parent to not take sides. No victim or aggressor should be identified. The consequence should be the same for all (for example, grounded for a week). It’s a different situation when one child steps up and admits guilt---make sure the courage is appreciated and still impose punishment).
Fights among siblings are inevitable but can be avoided and resolved. University of Pittsburgh psychologist Daniel Shaw tells Reader’s Digest that we may have parents for 30 to 50 years while our siblings will be there for 50 to 80 years. Time will come that they will be the only one who has known us since childhood so, as much as possible, we should hold our relationships with our siblings close and dear.
And when you become a parent, a loving environment at home teaches your children to empathize fully, understand others clearly, and love more abundantly.