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Life and Religion

Short-circuit sibling rivalry
Resolve conflict before it grows
Published Thursday, November 1, 2012 11:37 am
by Wesley Carter D.M.

My children are constantly at odds and the bickering is deafening. Is it normal?

Wesley Carter D.M.

The potential for conflict between siblings is inevitable.  Brothers and sisters often engage in conflict over attention or resources. Sibling rivalry refers to competition or animosity between siblings. If left unchecked, sibling rivalries can result in increase aggression, anxiety, and victimization.

If you suspect that one or more of the children pose a physical or emotional threat, engage outside intervention immediately. Your children’s school, their pediatrician, or local mental health agency can refer you to professionals.

However, if your children are engaged in typical sibling conflicts, there are several parenting strategies that will improve the situation. As the parent, it is your responsibility to mediate and teach your children how to negotiate for resources and conduct positive interactions. With your intervention, your children can learn how to resolve differences constructively.

For starters, call a family meeting and explain how painful it is to witness people you love engaged in conflict. Explain that every family member is responsible for creating harmony and good will. Notify the children that physical altercations are never appropriate and will not be tolerated.

Family should be a safe place free of violence or other forms of aggression. Ask them to identify ways that you contribute or minimize their conflict. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the courage required for self-reflection and positive change.

Siblings often believe that parents show favoritism toward one sibling over the other. If this is the case with your children, you have a tremendous opportunity to grow as a parent and modify your behavior. How you treat your children will influence how they treat each other.

Ask the children to identify possible sources of sibling conflict. Next, enlist their support in developing possible solutions to the various sources of conflict. Identify the rules of conduct and the associate penalties for noncompliance. Be sure to establish rules of conduct in instances of competition for resources, inappropriate communication, sharing, interactions with friends, and respect for personal space.

Encourage them to act out various scenarios to help the siblings distinguish between positive and negative behaviors. Demonstrate how their behavior looks to an outsider so the siblings can see themselves objectively. Ask them to demonstrate how your interventions look and feel. This should be a learning opportunity for all.

Develop new rules for handling common problems. For example, if the siblings engage in conflict over a toy, suggest that the toy be confiscated for a prescribed period of time. If they siblings must take turns with a toy, add extra time to the second and third turn to compensate the siblings who do not get the first turn.

Capture the information in writing and post it in a common area of your home for future reference. Leverage this “Engagement Contract” to serve as a constant reminder o how your family will interact with each other.

Next, ask each sibling to make a list of specific characteristics they love about each other. Help them recall positive experiences they have shared. Discuss the circumstances that contributed to the harmony and enjoyment of the experience. Schedule more of the desired events to enable the siblings to create more positive interactions.

Engage in activities as a family to enable you to keep an eye on their interactions. It is equally important that you plan activities with the siblings individually to give them your undivided attention.

WESLEY CARTER D.M., founder and CEO of Kids by Carter, provides guidance to parents. Submit your questions to wesley@kidsbycarter.com Visit www.kidsbycarter.com and follow on Twitter @kidsbydrcarter.


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