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Anyone with a brother or sister knows these situations very well, maybe even remember what it was like when their parents tried to put an end to these quarrels. How can a parent best handle such disputes?
First of all, accept that there are negative feelings about each other.
We don’t necessarily have to insist for the siblings to love each other no matter what, thinking even if they don’t stick together, who will... children have their own personality and it is up to them how they feel. If we let them express their anger, positive feelings will more likely come up to the surface. Fights between siblings are normal. Expressing their opinion will be a good practice for the future since there are so many situations after growing up when they won’t agree with the other party—and they can’t solve everything by tossing things, pulling hair, or slamming doors.
There is a great story based on Chinese wisdom.
When two men bickered loudly on the street and attracted a crowd around themselves, one of the tourists said to their Chinese guide: Well, this will result in a fight soon! The guide answered:
"I don’t think so. The first one who lifts his fists, admits he is left without arguments."
This is how I see the disputes between brothers and sisters. They try to convince each other, to make each other do what they want, or even quarrel if there is no other way! However, there is a line that we don’t cross, no matter how fierce the emotion is. If we reflect on the above, then the one who hits the other takes position of the loser, while the other one with teary eyes eventually becomes the winner. The tension between them is not resolved, but it is only postponed until the next occasion.
Parental intervention—like a deus ex machina—seems to solve the problem. Or not.
In a disagreement, every child expects the parent to stand on their side, but any discussion can be made even worse if the parent were to choose one of the sides. If there is a winner and a loser, the emotions don’t go away, but find another way to burst out. Interference and justice from above can be unfair to someone.
Let them solve it themselves!
If possible, don't just say, “I don’t care who started it, just drop it and be quiet!” Not even when this exclamation is justifiable.
Let's take a look at what steps we should take to develop peace, in the long run, between siblings.
- Accept the—sometimes hostile—feelings for each other!
- Listen to both sides, without interruptions. This already helps in mitigating impulses.
- Summarize their opinions and feelings, and tell them what we heard. This way, we show that we have listened and we could also make sure there are no further misunderstandings.
- Admit that, even as an adult, it’s not easy to handle such a situation and find a good solution.
- Tell them we think they are able to figure something that's right for all of them and we trust that they will use these capabilities.
- Leave them alone!
Yes, it can turn out they did not solve it—at least, not then and there. However, we have given them the opportunity to find a solution as equals, and we didn’t choose sides. They will appreciate it, even though at first it may be strange that parental justice was not being done. The long-term effects, however, will prove us right.
We give our children the opportunity clash their viewpoints (verbally!) to participate in finding the solution. These skills will be of a great benefit to them in the long run.
This way we can also reduce the amount of future fights! Who wants to argue if they can’t even make their parents pick their side? Who wants to quarrel with their brother or sister if they need to come up with a solution together anyway?
A brawl is another story. There is no doubt that when it comes to physical safety, it is important to interfere and put an end to it as soon as possible. Do it without judging—because we don’t know what happened before the first hit! Again, here come the six steps mentioned above, and while they tell each other what they feel and think, their anger will slowly abate and they will be able to reconsider things.
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