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Why can't we all just get along?!

Taken from:
LETS TALK - Goldstream Gazette
September, 2009

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

Dear Paul

I like summer. It’s the kids being at home and their quarrelling I can’t stand. Last week we took a vacation and I didn’t know what would happen first - either my son or my daughter would kill each other or I’d do them both in! The quarrels, the bickering, the nit-picking. Help !


Yes Sharon, I understand. At times the bickering between siblings can be extremely trying.

I remember those long vacation rides to the summer lake with our kids in the back of the car.

“Cut it out! Mom, she pushed me!”
“Hey. Get off of my side. Leave my pillow alone” !
“I didn’t say you could play my CD. Give it back.! Daaaaad !”
Child care professionals call this “sibling rivalry”.

Whatever it is called it can sure disrupt a peaceful home or well deserved vacation ! What stirs this volatile pot?

Experts in the field agree that at the root of this competition is each child’s deep desire for the exclusive love and attention of his parents. This can express itself as jealousy, resentments, competition, intolerance. There is quite enough fuel here to set off multiple daily skirmishes.

To begin with, let’s remember that though these squabbles and hostilities may feel like real disaster, nothing is necessarily going wrong.

To put it bluntly no one is growing up to be a sociopath. Sibling conflict is totally normal and in addition, the ground for significant life-long learning.

What is our role as parents?

Our modelling is primary. Remaining patient and conscious in the middle of it all, our own clear and respectful attitude, is our strongest influence.

It may be helpful here to remember a few basic principles in responding to sibling conflict.

Principle one: Generally, require your children to work the difficulty out themselves. Refrain from constantly solving the conflicts.

When YOU solve their problems your children continue to require you. Their conflicts escalate and become used to hold you captive. You come to be more required to settle conflicts; they become less responsible.

Require your children to come up with solutions - and acknowledge them both each time they do. Support them to come to know themselves as “problem solvers” by doing the work.

When children know you’re not going to take sides, and you require a solution and agreement, it puts their attention on solving conflict, not just creating it.
Principle two: Your home (or your car) is your space.
And you have every right to your space and to protect your good feelings.

There are times when we simply request our children to take their quibbling somewhere else.
Example: “Hey guys, this isn’t fun for me any more. If you want to stay with me in the living room, you’ll have to solve the problem quickly. Or go outside. What’ll it be? ”

Principle three: From time to time give children the room to express their feelings about the other/s.

When children complain about their sibling/s do your best to listen and reflect the feelings you hear. Acknowledge their frustration or their anger. Refrain from advising, solving, dismissing or minimizing their feelings.

As human beings when we feel heard and understood, it dissolves the intensity of our feelings inside and we can move on to just the next thing.

Example: “Mom, my TV program’s on and Susan won’t let me sit on the chesterfield. She’s mean. I hate her.”

By validating their feelings and putting them into words we reflect understanding: “Jen, I hear you. it must be frustrating to have to fight for that couch. That makes you real mad when your sister won’t share.”

Your reflection teaches them to put their feelings cleanly clearly into words and feel understood.

Sharon, while sibling squabbles can “drive us crazy” and as parents we may simply want them ended - we can’t ignore the powerful learning they offer everyone.


Paul Beckow is an individual, family, and marriage therapist on the West Shore. See www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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