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SIBLING SQUABBLING

Yes, sibling squabbling is inevitable. Yes, it can drive you up the wall. No, it’s not a disease, it’s a normal part of human development.

Why do siblings fight? Bickering and jockeying for position seems to be a natural part of living in a family which has more than one child. There is a biological basis for such behavior. Each baby bird tries to cheep the loudest to get the worm. Growling puppies pretend to bite, practicing skills which will be needed later for defense. Squabbling is the way human siblings learn how to get along with other people and become social beings.

Squabbling siblings are learning how to deal with people their own age, give in, negotiate, express emotional feelings, accommodate to the wishes of others, cope with feelings of jealously, figure out how far they can go with physical aggression, be angry with someone they love, compromise, and — if all else fails — coexist. These are valuable lessons, so valuable that parents with only one child must provide playmates and play situations so that an only child can learn them.

What can parents do to minimize the battleground atmosphere?

ALTERNATE PLAY-TOGETHER TIME WITH PLAY-ALONE TIME so children learn how to amuse themselves.

BE READY WITH ANTI-BOREDOM SUGGESTIONS. Think ahead of time of things the kids can do when they seem bored playing together. I’m convinced that a good deal of the fighting between sibs results from boredom. Picking a fight sparks things up a bit.

FORBID DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR AGAINST PEOPLE OR PROPERTY. Tussling is OK; hitting with a baseball bat is not. Also, siblings cannot ever be permitted to destroy each other’s possessions. Consequences must follow destructive behavior, every time it happens.

SEPARATE THE FIGHTERS! If the noise or the unpleasantness is getting to you, even if neither child nor property is at risk, you have every right to separate the children. Interpret your actions for them by saying it’s not pleasant to be near bickering people. It’s a good idea to have solitary activities for each child in mind so you know how to handle the inevitable There’s nothing to do! lament.

ASSIGN BLAME AS SPARINGLY AS POSSIBLE. Sometimes a child is out of line and needs to be dealt with, but the best thing a parent can do is let children resolve their own disputes. Listen to what each child says is the problem but don’t come up with the solution yourself. Rather, rephrase the problem as you heard it (“Jeff wants to study and Nancy is playing her stereo too loud. How can you kids settle this? It’s been a problem ever since Nancy got her new stereo.”). Remember if you tell the kids how to settle it, you create a winner and a loser. If they settle things themselves it’s a negotiated settlement.

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