Most parents will know that it’s normal for children to argue with each other. Mother-of-three Aideen Glynn asks how do you prevent petty squabbles from turning into bullying situations? What tips and tricks can we employ when dealing with sibling rivalry?
Put any group of people in the same environment for a prolonged period of time and tensions are bound to break out, regardless of age, race, gender or connection to each other. Nowhere is this more seriously felt than in a house full of children.
Being a parent of three I can categorically state that no matter how lovely your children are, no matter how polite and kind and courteous they are to people outside the family, they will save their nastiness and bad temper to use on each other.
Even if they get on very well for the most part, they will inevitably squabble, row and fall out with each other on a regular basis. It’s to be expected really. They share the same space; they compete for the same amounts of attention and are regularly expected to share possessions and belongings. This can breed resentment and hostility and even if there isn’t any obvious downright malevolence, there can be jealousy and antagonism between them which can awaken any underlying aggression.
It’s part of growing up..
Because sibling squabbling is commonplace and expected within a family unit, parents are generally more likely to let it slide and not intervene. Many think that leaving the children to cope with this on their own is helping them to learn valuable life lessons. They believe that the conflict between them is healthy and that it can have the effect of teaching the siblings how to handle difficult situations that they will no doubt be exposed to throughout their lives.
The bully in the next bedroom
However, it can be dangerous to turn a blind eye. Simple sibling squabbles can develop unchecked into something altogether more sinister.
Aggression between children of the same family should be taken very seriously as, believe it or not, it is a form of bullying – a very frightening one at that, and one that can have serious longterm effects on the child involved.
Home is where every child should feel safe and be able to let their guard down. It is where they should be comfortable and relaxed, where peer aggression and social media taunts cannot reach them. But what happens when the bully and the cause of the problem is in the bedroom next door or worse still, sleeping on the top bunk?
Effects of bullying
When any child is experiencing bullying from their peers, they can become withdrawn and depressed, suffer from severe anxiety and experience mental health problems later in life.
Sibling aggression in any form also results in feelings of anger, anxiety and despair. The effects are the same as peer bullying. So just because one type of bullying takes place at home with family and the other takes place in school or on teams or through a mobile phone, it does not mean that they should be treated as different sorts of problems. The result is worryingly similar and because the bullying is happening at home, in a place where a child should be most protected, the mental anguish can be intense and long lasting.
The long-term effects of bullying are well known and well documented. But sibling aggression is particularly associated with significantly worse mental health in children and adolescents. When you’re under threat in your safe place, the psychological impact can be quite severe and long lasting. It’s a serious issue and one that parents have to be on the lookout for.
Make home a safe place
So the next time you see one of your children hitting out at another, don’t just dismiss it. Step forward and make sure they understand that this is not a good way to behave. The rest of the world will be very quick to criticise and upset your children. Any misery they experience, any aggression they are faced with should not be coming from within their own family. Life is hard enough.
Siblings will be with us for most of our lives and as such we need to teach our children the importance of this special bond and how best to embrace it.
“Sibling rivalry is a naturally occurring event that every parent contends with now and then. Brothers and sisters will quarrel, disagree, fight and yes, occasionally come to blows about. It usually is a temporary phenomenon that is short lasting and easily sorted.
When one child habitually bullies another, threatens or intimidates them it is another matter entirely.
A child who lacks self-control and is aggressive needs help. Parents have probably used the disciplinary methods that helped other children but which now seem useless for this child.
The root causes of extreme aggression are varied and it may take professional intervention to come to terms with them and bring them under control.
In younger children, it is often helpful to say to them “Use your words, not your hands” and to help them develop better coping skills. In the case of older children, with a longer history of aggression, professional intervention is probably the best way forward. Either way, never leave it unaddressed.
The child who is overly aggressive is liable to grow up to be an aggressive adult. Intervention by parents and professionals is warranted.
Parents often ask “When should I consult a professional about my child if I am worried for them?” The answer to that question is simple. You should consult a professional about your child at the time you become concerned about them.”
What Parents Can Do
So what, as parents, can we do to prevent this and how do we know when to intervene?
Firstly, we need to set clear rules in the home about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.
We need to be firm but fair about what will be tolerated and what will not. If the children are fighting, consider separating them and make sure they all have their own space to retreat to.
We shouldn’t just assume that the squabbling between them is healthy and will help them become stronger individuals as this is not necessarily the case.
Consider rewarding kind and pleasant behaviour and maybe offer an incentive that will encourage them to be nice to each other.
Catch them being good, noticing when they are being friendly to each other and show your appreciation of this.
Teach the children about compassion and kindness and make sure it is very obviously practiced at home.
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