July 21, 2012

Ways to sooth sibling squabbles

Nothing rivals more for my attention than when parents want some advice on sibling rivalry. So this week let me try to bring some peace to the situation by providing some info on the topic.

Believe it or not, siblings who fight with each other may, in the long run, benefit by learning some very important skills, such as valuing another’s perspective, how to compromise and negotiate and how to control aggressive impulses before they have to disagree with someone outside of the family.

Yet, that doesn’t mean that lots of conflict is a good thing, so we still need to offer some alternatives to verbal or physical fighting between sibs.

Here are five tips to keep in mind if you want to keep the peace between siblings:

1. Siblings will fight when they are cranky, tense, easily frustrated, bored or seeking a parent’s attention. If a conflict does occur, try not to react unless there is a danger of physical harm to one or both of the children.

2. Don’t take sides or try to figure out who did what to whom, since it takes two to tango, and both children, in some way, are partially responsible for the flare-up.

3. If you must intervene, try to resolve the problem with your children, not for them, by encouraging them to find an alternative solution.

4. If the fight is about using something, such as a video game, have them make a schedule so they use the game for equal amounts of time. If it’s about who gets the last cookie, have one sibling cut it in half, and the other choose the half he or she wants first.

5. If your children do resolve a squabble without getting vocal or physical, praise them and celebrate the occasion.

Hopefully tips like this will knock out most sibling fights and make everyone in your family feel like a winner when it comes to dealing with sibling rivalry.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

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