Can you avoid conflicts between children?
Getting along is not always easy, in fact, it is challenging for adults as well as children! It requires large doses of empathy, generosity, mutual respect and self control. It is not necessarily natural for siblings to play happily for long periods of time, to know how to share, or to accept losing a game. Conflicts are inevitable among children that live together because they are not born with the ability to resolve disputes in a healthy way. Parents, however, can teach them how to do so.
When the first conflicts among siblings take place, the natural tendency of parents is to react with concern, try to guess what happened, punish “the villain”, and console “the victim”. This response to a conflict may work sometimes when children are very young, when parents have clearly witnessed the conflict, or when there is aggressive behavior involved. However in many cases, parents haven’t seen exactly what happened, and parents learn very quickly that conflicts are not that simple to handle! When parents tend to resolve things their way, children are not given the opportunity to learn how to settle conflicts. Besides, parents sometimes make mistakes when declaring “the victim” and “the villain” and this mistake can plant seeds of injustice, envy and rivalry at home. No matter what happened before, when parents get involved in the conflict the only thing that a child wants is to have them on his or her side. When they perceive that their parents have taken matters into their own hands especially without discussion or explanation, unless the result goes their way, they feel that their parents are unfair.
Parents must accept that sibling conflicts are part of family life and they must prepare a plan to respond calmly to them. The first part of the plan is to write down a few rules for siblings that they can teach and implement in their home. Rules are a very useful tool that gives parents the opportunity to define their expectations and explain those clear expectations to their children before conflicts take place.
The rules for siblings may vary depending on the children’s ages and the conflicts that are more frequent in the family, but they can be something like this:
“We learn how to get along”
1) It is normal for siblings to disagree sometimes and become angry, but they must stay calm and express their frustration in a respectful way.
It is not acceptable to speak or treat siblings without respect.
2) Siblings must try to resolve conflicts between themselves using their normal “inside voice”.
It is not acceptable to scream or shout in their “outside voice”.
3) In a conflict there is usually some truth and some blame on both sides.
It is not acceptable to be a tattletale.
4) Aggressive behaviors are unacceptable under any circumstance.
The second part of the plan is that when parents decide that the children have violated any of these rules, they can send them to play in different rooms for a certain period of time decided upon by the parents. The act of separating them is not meant to be a punishment, but rather it is a way to enable them to cool down and stop the dispute before it gets out of control. The goal is to calm things down before the problem escalates. After being alone for a while, children will soon be willing to be together again. If anti-social behavior is involved, besides separating the children parents can give the aggressor a consequence to that behavior as they would under different circumstances.
When parents have the time for it, they can ask the children to explain their version of the conflict in front of everyone, without taking sides or judging any of them. Parents must encourage children to find a solution to the conflict. If they can resolve the conflict in a way that pleases everyone, parents can allow the kids to continue playing together. Otherwise they will have to be separated. With patience and guidance, children can learn that it is normal to get angry from time to time; that they need to learn to set limits on their reaction, and that conflicts should be resolved constructively because everybody loses otherwise. When parents stay impartial, they may seem unfair short term, but long term it will keep rivalry from growing and will make children realize that supporting each other pays dividends. . It is a win-win situation for them to be in the same side. When parents are partial, “the villain” will think that the father or mother is always against him or her and “the victim” becomes dependent on the support of the parents and doesn´t learn how to defend her or himself. When parents do not have the time or the patience at that time to guide their children in this way, it is best to stay out of it and just separate them.
Parents should not see sibling conflicts as a problem but rather as an opportunity to teach their kids how to get along, both in the home and beyond. Parent won´t be able to avoid some level of sibling conflicts but they can teach their children how to resolve them by themselves. These learned skills may even lead to lessening the number of conflicts that are surely to come up as they play, learn and grow up together.
Pepa Rivero de Wenrich