Ending conflict between siblings should not be the primary focus of parents – they should concentrate more on all the positive things that can be done to help children get along, says an American expert.
Writing for a special section of Child Development Perspectives, Laurie Kramer, a University of Illinois professor of applied family studies, says: “Even if you’re successful at reducing conflict and antagonism, research suggests that you’ll probably be left with little positive interaction between siblings. Do you really want your kids to head for their rooms and spend time mainly on their own interests and with their own friends?”
She urges parents to think about the relationship they want their kids to have with each other – now and as adults – and to be intentional in helping them create that positive, supportive bond.
Most parents would like for their kids to be able to talk with each other, have fun together, and be a source of support for each other during stressful times in their lives,” she says.
Kramer knows siblings can learn the skills that enable them to be more supportive brothers and sisters because her own research has demonstrated it.
Here are some ways parents can support these positive changes in their own families:
- Help your children learn to see things from their sibling’s perspective and to respect other people’s points of view.
- Teach them to identify and manage their emotions and behaviors when they’re in challenging and frustrating situations.
- Teach your kids not to assume the worst about their sibling’s or anyone else intentions.
- Show them that conflict is a problem that can be solved and teach them how to do it.
- Try to meet each child’s unique needs without showing favoritism.
- Teach them to use their unique knowledge of each other to strengthen their bond rather than taking advantage of each other’s weaknesses.
- Promote play, conversation, mutual interests, and fun.
- Praise your kids when they help, support, and cooperate with each other.
Kramer encourages parents to examine the goals they have for their children’s current and eventual relationship, and then to take actions that will help their kids achieve those goals.
“If you love the idea of your kids just having fun together, schedule more family activities and help to make that happen. If you do have big problems with fighting among your kids, help them learn and practice strategies for solving problems and managing conflicts,” she says.
“Problems have solutions, and there’s a logical process that you go through to achieve consensus. Make sure both siblings understand what the fight is about, have them practice telling their own viewpoint and taking the other person’s perspective, then help them to brainstorm different ways of solving the problem that have a win-win solution. If the solution doesn’t work, well, you try again,” she adds.