“Mom, Jackie hit me!” “But Mom, Susie started it. She took my book and she won’t give it back!” Does this sound like a typical day in your household? If so, you’re not alone. Conflict between siblings is a big problem for many families, but there are some things you can try to make everyone’s life a little easier and a lot less stressful. For ten easy conflict resolution tips, see my list below.
1. Distraction: You may think only small children could be distracted, but that isn’t true. As a parent, you know what your children like and dislike more than anybody. Use this knowledge to your advantage and change the subject. Did the Leafs really win last night? This could work with your husband!
2. Separation: Sometimes a forced separation is necessary. When children spend a lot of time together, especially siblings, they are bound to disagree about something. If your children are getting on each other’s nerves, simply force them to play by themselves. It will make you the bad guy and your children feel like they are on the same team.
3. Skills: Quite often disagreements between children get out of hand because they lack the conflict resolutions skills to solve their own problems. Teach your children about the importance of listening, compromising and controlling their emotions. Teach them to count, take a breath and walk away if they need to. Be a mediator and set a good example for your children.
4. Rewards: When trying to modify your children’s behavior, look for situations to offer praise or rewards. Don’t bribe your children to behave, but if you spot them helping one another, or taking turns nicely, make sure to let them know how proud you are. If they have been getting along especially well, take them for a fun family outing together. Who wants to go bowling?
5. Taking Sides: If you didn’t witness the argument, don’t take sides. Children often elaborate or lie if they think they will get in trouble and you may never know the full story. Be a mediator, not a lawyer. Punishing an innocent child can cause issues with trust and self-esteem.
6. Moving Forward: Just like after a time-out, you should tell your children how much you love them and how lucky they are to have a family. Remind them that some children don’t have parents or siblings. Insisting on apologies and hugs after a fight can help your children feel connected to one another.
7. Cause: What is the real reason your children are disagreeing? Are they tired? Hungry? Are they having trouble at school? Sometimes you have to search for the root cause of the problem to stop the fighting. Children who act up may be seeking attention. Are they feeling sad? Do they need a hug?
8. Socialization: Socialization at an early age helps children lean how to relate well with other people. Taking turns and learning how to empathize are skills that can be taught with proper guidance. When your children are young, give them plenty of opportunities to interact with other children and mediate when necessary. Just like any other skill, experience helps.
9. Role Play: How would you feel if Sadie took your toy? Would you be angry? What do you think mommy should do? Would that be fair? Encouraging children to look at situations from another person’s point of view can be helpful in resolving conflicts. Let your children be mommy!
10. Record: Stand at a distance and videotape your children fighting. They probably won’t even notice if they are really into the argument. Afterwards, review the tape with each child and talk about his or her behavior. Yes, I know what Jackie did was wrong, but what could you have done differently? What reaction would be better?
Teaching your children proper conflict resolutions skills is important for their future happiness and wellbeing. When would you not need good people skills? Teach your children to listen, negotiate, empathize and walk away when necessary. Are you bleeding profusely? Did your house burn down? No? Then stop complaining!