Let Them Fight (Sibling Rivalry)

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As an only child, I grew up in a house that was quiet, calm and generally uneventful. Both of my parents worked, so when I was old enough to stay home by myself, I spent time playing with neighborhood friends after school. This is where I learned how to navigate relationships with my peers and got my first glimpse at others trying to do the same. Most of this came in the form of sibling rivalry. It was fierce and loud and often times angry. Since I wasn’t having this experience at my own house, I found it fascinating to watch.

From only child to mother of two

Fast forward twenty years and now as a mother of two, sibling rivalry still gives me a feeling of angst as I watch my kids learn to navigate one of life’s most important relationships. At first, I was adamant we weren’t going to have any normal yelling, shoving or mean-spirited attitudes, but my husband assured me this was all very common and healthy from a child development perspective. I did some research on my own and realized I had to change my thinking. I needed to be more hands off and let them work things out on their own. This is something I remind myself of often when they are really going at it and I just want the noise to stop.

My kids have their own individual personalities. One is an extrovert, physical and loud. The other is able to use words more effectively, generally a lover, but also loud. Knowing they are different, they often communicate in a way the other one doesn’t understand. This most often leads to shoving or stomping away angry. My husband and I, being very different ourselves, try to only step in to help them share their feelings in a way the other one can relate to or if someone is going to get hurt!

Siblings are in their own relationship. When they head out in to the world we want them to have each other to count on. They need to know how to navigate the other one’s feelings, be empathetic, and share what works and what they need. So, when they come to us to tattle we always tell them to go tell the other one how they feel. Shockingly, they walk up to each other and say things like, “I don’t like what you did because…You hurt my feelings when you…or if you don’t stop (insert hitting, kicking, etc.) here’s what I’m going to do.” If adults could speak to each other the way my kids communicate, the world would be a less confusing place! By encouraging them to share their feelings and speak up when they want something different than what they are getting, we are trying to lay a strong foundation for their relationship as adults.

It’s okay to fight. This is my least favorite, but all mothers of more than one child know that fighting is going to happen. By letting our kids get their anger out and understand how they may have hurt the other person, we are teaching them not to keep it bottled up. I think this is a good avenue for kids to learn boundaries and understand that their tiny world includes other people whose needs may be different from their own. While I would prefer this fighting be done in a less aggressive, slightly lower tone, that is just not who my children are or how they most effectively express themselves.

My only child perspective on this is limited and others who grew up with siblings may handle this very differently with their own children. I think it is fair to say you might be the center of their universe now, but that won’t always be the case, so let them learn how to navigate a relationship in a safe environment surrounded by people who love them – most of the time.