In a household with more than one child, bickering and conflict and some level of sibling rivalry is certainly expected and considered normal behavior. As parents we do our best to keep peace in our households and when siblings disagree we try to help settle their differences, one issue at a time. However, for some parents the day will come when they realize the differences do not lie in the individual issues, but in the siblings themselves. No matter what the subject matter, you will have completely opposing opinions and the potential for constant disagreements over absolutely everything, absolutely all the time. Once you’ve discovered that you are the proud parents of complete and total polar opposites (as in up-down,left-right,north-south), you will have taken the first step to recovering your sanity.
The second step is recognizing you cannot legislate peace from your “parental bench”. So what’s a parent to do when they’re stuck in the middle of never ending disagreements? What do you do when you find yourself afraid to lean one way or the other so as not to be accused of favoritism or taking sides? What’s a parent to do?
Well, actually… nothing. That is your third and final step in reclaiming your peace of mind – get out of the middle. Experts agree, let them settle their own issues without your interference as long as they follow the family rules. If your household rules are broken, take the time to address the infraction but not the original disagreement.
Those rules should include:
• No physical violence – this is always completely unacceptable behavior.
• No verbal abuse – it’s never too early for a child to learn how to communicate their point of view effectively. Name calling (including ‘stupid’) and abusive language is also never acceptable.
• Respect – the opposing siblings should respect each other as well as other members in the household. A good idea is to enforce “do not disturb the peace” zones in your home which includes places like the dinner table, in the car or the bedroom at bedtime.
By removing yourself from ongoing disagreements, you not only relieve yourself of the stress which comes from constant refereeing, but you also allow your children to learn conflict resolution skills. Of course, using sound parental judgment is always in order and some disputes, such as destructive behavior and bullying, require special consideration.
In addition, one of the best ways a parent can help with siblings constantly at odds is to have private meetings with each child to talk about their disagreements. Your input, as an unbiased bystander, will more easily be accepted by the siblings, who are eager to finally have your ear. However, the meetings should not be an opportunity to have them vent on each other but rather a way to sort out their own feelings. Encourage them to only discuss themselves - what they thought, or said, or did and why. In calmer times you are able to help them identify ways to avoid conflicts while still celebrating their individuality. It’s also the best time to impress upon them the finest advice known for conflicts involving opposing personalities: Just agree to disagree and move on!