Both of my girls were arguing over a toy at playgroup. They were screaming at each other at the top of their lungs and yanking the toy out of each other’s hands and much to the dismay of some onlooking parents, I stood back and did what appeared to be nothing. I acted as a sounding board for the two of them: “Mmmhmm… yes, I see what you want and your sister is grabbing it! You look like you’re so annoyed!” Like that…
They were fighting over who got to ride a toy car that rolled down a ramp, sort of like a roller coaster. Fair enough. There was ONE cool toy and there were TWO of them.
It only took them a minute or less of squabbling to figure it out. Each one got to go twice before it was the other one’s turn. Problem solved. Once sorted, they played happily for the next ten minutes, laughing and sharing beautifully.
To step in-between a sibling fight, is interfering with a golden opportunity to let kids learn how to sort out their differences.
Unless it’s really out of control, or if someone is getting picked on or hurt, or if I can’t handle two screaming children at the moment, then I might step in. However, quite often, I don’t.
When I let them argue, uninterrupted, they actually end up fighting less and playing better, on the whole. And, what’s more amazing is that they rarely ever come crying to me about their disagreements. I’m certainly available to act as a mediator and they will come if they are truly in distress. I also tell them they can yell and scream all they want, but they cannot hurt each other (although sometimes they do a little anyway). After they’ve had a good argument, they play as if nothing happened at all!
If they were to have this fight in a public place, with other children, say at school, there would be all sorts of needed interventions. Arguments outside of the house are different because the playing field is not fair. But, at home, the fight is free to take it’s full course of problem solving. The sibling fight at home facilitates a chance for a shy kid to roar or a dominant kid to cry and rage (a much needed outlet of natural emotions).
I once heard that letting siblings fight, is sort of like a vaccination (anti-vaccinators can relax, it’s just helping to paint the picture). Siblings learn how to argue, make up and play nicely behind the scenes, in the safe space of your home. Then, when they go out into the real world, they know how to do the same thing in other situations, but without the same intensity as they would when fighting with a sibling. It’s practice! I found that because my kids argue well with each other, they are pretty agreeable with non-siblings.
There are ways to cultivate a sense of sharing and friendliness without ever having to ‘teach‘ it or to wait for it to happen on its own. I can’t remember ever sitting down with my kids once and talking to them about sharing or being nice, but for the most part, they’re very reasonable with each other. When you constantly step in and try to sort out sibling fights, one kid is bound to start thinking you’re taking sides or that you like one better than the other. It can create such a headache for yourself! Then, the blame game starts up: “But she did this… and she did that… and it’s not my fault!”
What would being the argument policeman teach them? That they should run away from disagreement?! Life is full of opposites. Arguments are one of them. But, arguments in our home are special because they’re in a safe space.
By no means am I trying to toughen them up and make them figure life out on their own. No, I don’t believe in making kids ‘tough‘. But, there are certainly some valuable lessons to be learned from fighting with a sibling.
I believe in this sort of problem solving especially for young children, as they have very little understanding of sharing and always acting considerate, because their need for something is immediate! They don’t want the toy in five minutes, they want it NOW! So, if you let kids squabble a bit over the toy and it ends in tears, it’s better to let the kids shed their tears over their immediate frustrations right on the spot (rather than bottle it up, which is what happens when we force cooperation). Allowing kids to have disagreements and minor vents of frustration in the moment, in the form of crying and screaming, means there will be less epic melt downs later.
While my girls can have some of their most epic battles over something as small as a piece of paper (seriously), they also have their most precious moments playing together. I’ve seen them keep each other safe from harm. I’ve seen them offer their last bites of chocolate cake to each other. And, more often than not, I’ve see them sharing their belongings beautifully. Their relationship exhibits the full range of intense emotions. Intense anger to the most refined love. Not only does allowing their arguments help them to learn about life, but it also takes less energy for me to constantly have to come up with solutions!
(Disclaimer: This post can be easily taken out of context. Allowing siblings to argue is different than when adults fight. While it’s one thing for children to see adults disagree on something, heavy, adult arguments can be scary and confusing for young children. Also, when children act overly aggressive while fighting with their siblings, there is a deeper issue at hand. Violence in children could be a sign that there is an unmet need, or that they have a lot of frustrations to vent in the form of supported crying and raging.)