Parents must be able to distinguish between healthy sibling conflict and damaging abuse. Sibling rivalry is a normal, and mostly harmless, part of growing up. Siblings often compete without anyone getting hurt. These sometimes fierce, but balanced comparisons regarding achievement, attractiveness, and social relations with peers may actually strengthen sibling ties.
It’s natural for pre-teen and teenage siblings to fight over all sorts of things. Teenage siblings argue just as much as younger children, but they tend to fight about different things. They might also use different and more grown-up language.
Reality is, most of us realize sometimes sibling fighting can become out-of-control and someone can get hurt, either emotionally or physically. If you grew up with brothers or sisters, you know much of this is common, but in some situations, especially if a teen is suffering with depression, anxiety or anger, their impulse control can become explosive to those around them.
When sibling conflict leads to abuse
What begins as normal sibling rivalry can escalate into something more when parents fail to adequately supervise their children or teach them appropriate means of resolving conflict. In one fairly common set of circumstances, parents may leave an older sibling in charge of younger ones. The child in charge may not know how to give out appropriate discipline. When one child misbehaves, the older sibling may go to extremes to get the child to comply.
Parents often overlook, ignore, or deny cruel behavior between their children. Parents must intervene anytime there is a suspicion or danger of one child being hurt. They should also intervene after providing siblings with the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts and seeing that they may need some extra help. Timing and sensitivity is critical.
Listen and believe your children. Never dismiss a child who says that he or she is being victimized. Also, avoid giving one child too much responsibility or power over another. Provide good adult supervision in your absence. Be sure to investigate sudden changes in mood or temperament in your child. And seek professional help if you cannot control combative or abusive behavior among your children.
Resolving sibling fighting
Encourage siblings to resolve fights themselves
Resolving arguments by themselves teaches children essential life skills, so avoid always stepping in to solve problems for them – although this might be faster and less stressful. Try asking your children to listen to each other’s perspective. Then encourage them to find a compromise.
You can also motivate your children to resolve fights themselves. For example, if they’re fighting over the games console, take away their access to it until they can work out a solution together.
Help with problem-solving
If your children need some help, you can model problem-solving for them by helping them work out what they’re arguing about, asking them what they each want, and prompting them to come up with solutions together. Writing things down can be a good idea, because it helps them get all their ideas on paper.
Focus on what the fight is about
If they’re fighting, both children are responsible, so it’s best to focus on what the fight is about rather than on who started it. If you take sides, one child might feel unfairly treated and feel you’re showing favoritism. It’s better to get both children to state their problems, and then brainstorm possible solutions.
Help siblings calm down
Fights among siblings can bring up strong emotions. As your children work on resolving arguments and conflict, it’s good – although not always easy – for them to stay calm. They might need time or help to calm down.
Keeping track of how fights get resolved
This will help you make sure one child isn’t dominating the other. Make sure that compromise does happen, and that they’re each getting something. If they can’t compromise, create a consequence for both of them.
Seeking professional help
Therapists with training in both family therapy and family violence can help your family meet the challenge of dealing with sibling aggression. A therapeutic climate where families are encouraged and reminded of what they do well and parents learn to help children resolve conflicts on their own can reduce or eliminate sibling aggression. Parents can learn how to intervene in serious sibling conflicts immediately and effectively through a series of prescribed rules and conduct meant to encourage a win-win solution.
Parents sometimes also need to learn how to manage their own levels of anger so that they can teach their children how to manage theirs. The development, implementation and modeling of good conflict resolution skills during calm times can be helpful in moderating and reducing arguments and disagreements. Dangerous fights need to be stopped immediately. Children must be separated and taught how to calm themselves.
If you find your teen is refusing to attend counseling, and continuing to have outbursts of rage towards his family members, it might be time to learn more about the benefits of residential treatment.
Sources: RaisingChildren.net.au, AAMFT Image provided by Unsplash.