Let them work it out. It will work out better that way.

Sibling rivalry is a part of growing up. Holiday times intensify everything -- including rivalry. WHen children fight, the best thing is to let them. Children learn how to negotiate from sibling rivalry. You might be afraid the children will hurt each other. They might. Then they learn that fighting hurts and bigger people are dangerous and can hurt you. Little people have their ways to find revenge against older and stronger and smarter siblings. When parents are judge jury and executioner, it sets up a dangerous precedent.

Two of our family's most prized creatures: Snow Bear and Gonzo.

That’s Snow Bear, given to our four children by my in-laws about 20 years ago. My children, now in their 20s, will see Snow Bear this week and say in jest, “Snow Bear! I want to sleep with him!”

Snow Bear made a limited appearance every December, which heightened his special-ness. You can see, despite his age, he is still pristine. That’s Gonzo beside Snow Bear, another fought-over treasure in our home.

The children fought for the privilege to sleep with Snow Bear and Gonzo. Many tears were shed over who would sleep with Snow Bear.

Christmas is already a time of heightened emotions and expectations that children can barely contain. We adults forget that intense feeling of Christmas anticipation,  which for us would be like a combination of: dynamite about to explode; an unrequited crush on someone; sexual desire; worry over job security; looking forward to a vacation; and meeting your idol — all on the same day.

Kids are going nuts for the next six days until Santa arrives and they have the 15 minute present orgy. Take it easy on them and know that their emotions are on edge. Every feeling will be intensified, including sibling rivalry.

Especially sibling rivalry because brothers and sisters will see each other get something more than they got; or see them get something they wanted and didn’t get; or perceive that mom and dad love brother or sister more.

The best medicine for sibling rivalry:

1. Let them work it out.

2. Even if there’s a big or small age or size difference, Let them work it out. They will and they will learn so much more than you will ever teach them by serving as judge, jury and executioner.

3. Even if you are worried for their safety, let them work it out. Smaller people will learn an important rule of the world: bigger people can hurt you, so don’t mess with them. They will all learn that fighting hurts.

One year Snow Bear went back into the attic because the children couldn’t work out a sleeping schedule for him. Removing a toy is very effective: “Either you all figure out how to share Snow Bear, or no one gets him.” Then take action — quickly and with as few words as possible.

When my children fought, they were escorted outside to resolve the disputes, where on cold nights without an audience, the disputes ended rather quickly.

When children are allowed to work out their differences, they learn negotiation skills, that fighting hurts, that scarce resources can be shared, and most importantly, the self-confidence that they can work it out and make good decisions.

Make sure your children are getting daily doses of positive attention without asking for it and they don’t have to use fighting or other negative behavior to get your attention. As you know, assure them they are all loved equally. Do not show favorites. Do not imply favorites. Just don’t.

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Explore posts in the same categories: belonging, Christmas, sibling rivalry, special time, take time for training

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5 Comments on “Let them work it out. It will work out better that way.”

  1. Tracy Says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue! I often wonder when exactly I am supposed to step in when my three children are arguing. One child is known for his temper, another for his sensitivity and another for tormeting her brothers at will! Depending on my level of patience at the time, I find myself jumping in in an effort to stop the noise. I also don’t want them to hurt eachother. And I’ve told them to come to me before it gets to that point, so I feel as if I should be there. I do recognize the need for them to work it out though. It’s hard to find the right balance. Do I respond when one of them yells “Mooooom!!!”?

    • raisingable Says:

      You can start with a family meeting and talk about strategies for how to work out problems. Invite them to brainstorm.

      Then, let them know that from now on, you expect them to work out their problems. KNOW that things might get worse before they get better — they will test you!

      To make sure this strategy works, say:
      “I know you can work it out.”

      Offer to remove the toy or person.
      Direct them to take the disagreement outside or out of earshot if it’s too loud. You can also leave the area if it’s too loud.

      Give them small doses of positive attention throughout the day so they don’t have to get you to stop and pay attention for misbehavior. “Catch them being good.”

      Your children will learn to get along without a cop and they will be much closer. You will be much calmer.

  2. Casey Says:

    It’s no jest. I really DO want to sleep with Snow Bear this weekend.

  3. Tracy Says:

    Thank you! You bring up a good point about the audience, too. I’ll give it a try! 🙂


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