Principle: It doesn’t matter what happened. You do not have to be Solomon. A parents job is to stay calm and in control and to sympathise equally with all children involved. Observe and describe the situation so a solution can be found.
The wrong intervention from a parent means that sibling rivalry will increase.
Siblings will fight for a few reasons.
- They are learning self-regulation.
- They are competing for limited resources (you, toys, food etc).
- They are dealing with their own stress and they pick up on ours.
How and when to intervene the right way:
Observations not accusations!
- Observe and describe the situation without questions or accusations.
- Give equal touch and validation to all children involved.
- Ask how they are feeling so that you can validate first.
- Don’t ask for explanations for their actions.
- Let each child say how they feel without attacking anyone. “I think…” or “I feel…” statements. You can keep a coin in your pocket so you can toss it to decide who goes first.
- If they are not ready to talk, validate their feelings and remind them of right and wrong and the clear family rules that are already in place.
- Describe the situation and if the children are regulated enough let them brain storm solutions together. If they need help, write ALL the ideas down on a piece of paper without questioning them. Ridiculous ideas are fine at this point and making it a game may also help e.g. “I will give a £1 million to the one who finds a solution”.
One exception is if there has been physical abuse. In this case only go to the hurt child whilst inviting the other child to help by getting an ice pack or chair etc. Other than that follow all the same steps. When there has been abuse there should also be an expectation of repair.
- Roughhousing – pillow fights/wrestling etc.
- Special time – one on one time – 15 mins per day
Dr Laura Markham has a lot of articles on her website to offer help in this area. She also offers a lot of help for parents who struggle to stay calm when children fight. Dr Markham explains why this is so important and recommends that if you cannot be calm enough to deal with it then you should say so. Separate the children and yourself until you are ready.