We can set the scene for harmonious family relationships but the reality is that siblings will still fight with each other sometimes. So how you can help your children to manage conflicts when they occur?
1. Stay calm. When humans are faced with conflict, even if we are not directly involved, our brains interpret the situation as “dangerous”. When siblings fight, it often triggers this “danger” warning for their parents. Try to remain calm and remind yourself that “this is not an emergency”. Take a moment to have a deep breath and think through your options before you respond to the situation – your reaction can have a big impact on whether the situation escalates or settles. You can help your kids to learn simple self calming strategies when they are not in the conflict moment.
2. Avoid refereeing. Try not to take sides, determine who started it, or who is to blame. Listen to each child’s perspective and rephrase it back to them to let them know that you have heard their version of the story (you don’t have to agree with it). Attend to the needs of each child rather than getting caught up in being “fair” or “equal”. Some kids need more attention, some need space on their own, some need guiding through calming strategies.
3. We are all learning. Be careful of your expectations on your children as they can sometimes hinder the child’s ability or willingness to learn in a situation. It is far more helpful to remind yourself that each child is learning, and figuring things out than imposing expectations on them that they may not yet be able to meet, e.g. expecting your oldest child to “set a good example” or to “know better”. Sometimes they will get it right, sometimes they will get it wrong but each time they will be learning something from the situation, so try to make what they are learning useful rather than painful or shameful.
4. Help with problem solving. Help your children to problem solve when faced with conflict or disagreements. This will likely be very basic when in the moment and your children may initially require alot of guidance from you. You can brainstorm ideas together and encourage your kids to try out some options that work for everyone. Later, when everyone has calmed down, you can talk about how to handle similar situations in future. As your kids get older and more practised at problem solving, they will be able to do more of this themselves.