Sibling Rivalry and Fighting: How Much to Intervene

Many parents have the question of if my children are fighting, how much do we step in and intervene?  Many parents have the attitude that the children need to “work it out.”

I think children who are under the age of 7 often do not have the skills to “work it out.”  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.   Sometimes it will be “worked out” mainly to the satisfaction of the older child, which can be okay if the younger child is happy (and you are not judging whether or not the solution is “fair” from an adult perspective!).  However, please do remember that ages  4 and 6 are especially bossy, aggressive ages for many children and leaving them to “work it out” without your physical presence and perhaps some guidelines often leads to some sort of physical altercation with someone in tears.

To me, when small children fight, it may mean that they need you to hold a stronger presence around them.  They may need you to say, Oh, I need help in chopping these vegetables for dinner or Oh, I need your help in planting seeds or whathave you.  It may mean you need to go and look back at how present you are, and also where your rhythm and the place of very physical, outside time is within your rhythm. 

Being a listening ear with loving arms can go a long way toward soothing strong emotions and tears even without providing much of a solution.  Just having an adult understand how upsetting a situation can be is helpful.  You really don’t need a lot of words, just a calm presence

I like the positively-phrased aspect of working with two small children regarding conflict resolution:   “We share” or “You may have a turn when your sister is done”, but the truth of the matter is that you  also need to be right there to help the children follow-through.  Some children really do need to hear an adult count out the length of a turn so the turns are “fair.”

Fairness can be a big deal, but it also should be understood over time by children that fair is not always equal and different members of the family have different needs.  I truly believe that when you have children over the age of 7 and also children under the age of 7, setting rites of passages helps immensely because the younger children can see that certain things happen when one is 6 or 7 or 8 that do not happen before.  A two-year-old and a six-year-old are at different development stages and should be treated as such.

Conflict between siblings will probably never stop, and to frame it more positively this is the first place where children really learn about dealing with another person, how to deal with conflict, the concepts of fairness, equality, how to deal with jealousy and other strong emotions.  It can be hard, but it can be a time of extreme growth.

Many mothers attempt to instill the notion of the older as the protector and caretaker of the younger sibling as a way to defuse argument.  I agree with this to a certain extent, and have seen this work successfully within many families, but I think we also need to be careful to understand that a six or seven or eight year old can really take this concept and run with it to the point of being incredibly bossy and demanding of the younger child in the guise of being the “Mommy” or “Daddy” figure if Mommy and Daddy are not right there.  I think we also have to be careful not to push our oldest daughters into the position of feeling as if they are raising children or doing much of mother’s work.

Your oldest child also has needs, and with homeschooling, I feel many times those older over 7 and 8 year old children do need a few social outlets with children mainly of their own age since they may be spending a lot of time at home with younger siblings.  I know this could be an extreme source of controversy, and not every parent feels this way, but I have certainly noticed my oldest daughter appreciates things here and there that involve mainly her own age group and being  a part of that.  As a child heads toward the nine-year-change and beyond, building a sense of trusted community outside of the immediate nuclear family in limited doses can become important. 

Of course, siblings and the close intimacy of the family are the most important relationships your child can experience in many ways.  To me, siblings is one of the greatest gifts I feel you can give your child!

All family members treating one another with respect, courtesy and having a peaceful household is so important in setting the stage for how we treat those outside of our family.  Let us be as kind to one another in our home as we would be to strangers requiring our help.  What a wonderful model for our children!

Blessings today,



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