March 9, 2016

My 3 and 7 year old love playing together but their play usually results in the expected amount of conflict. I find myself questioning how involved I should get in their disputes. Should I say something when I see someone being unfair? Should I wait until they come to me for help (usually when it has escalated to tears)? Should I make them work it out on their own? It is supremely important to me that they have a positive relationship but I don’t want them to rely on me as an intermediary in their relationship.

Melissa, in PA

These are such important questions we ask ourselves as parents of sibs!

You certainly already have some common sense guidelines about when you have to get involved, right?

  1. Someone is bullying. If you see a behavior from one to another that you think might be bullying, ask yourself this question: “If I saw a child on the playground do/say that, would I call it bullying?” If so, then you have to step in,bullying is not OK at home either! And remember, younger kids are just as likely to try to bully older ones.
  2. The fighting is no longer consensual. That means that one child wants out, but doesn’t know how to stop the fight or argument. It takes a long time to learn that it takes two people to agree to fight, and sometimes it’s best to just walk away.
  3. Avoiding the insurance claim. At our house we have a rule – if something is likely to require money from our insurance – medical or homeowners – it’s done. End of story.

Now, let’s talk “intervening” vs “interfering.”

It’s a really tough call! As hard as I find this to do, it’s really best to let our kids try to work it out on their own, for just the reason you stated. We want to build in them the habit of taking their feelings and ideas to the other person because that means they are communicating and problem-solving, not tattling.

There are some times when telling is not tattling, and there is a world of difference between saying “Mom, she just…!” and “Mom, I’m trying to talk to my brother and it’s not working. Can I have some help?”

When I become the complaint department, and there is no sign of deep emotional or physical wounds, I always ask, “What did your brother say when you told him?” This doesn’t always solve it, but it does make clear my expectation that they will look to each other fora solution first.

As for stepping in when you overhear something that is unfair, you probably don’t need to.  Kids are excellent at knowing when they’ve been wronged, and keep track of “fair” better than Supreme Court judges or standardized test designers! If you feel that one of your kids is repeatedly manipulating or taking advantage of another, then it’s probably time for a one-on-one or family sit down. This happens pretty regularly at my house icon wink Sibling Conflict   Step In or Step Back? !

You don’t mention it, but I want to touch on one other scenario:

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Deborah Gilboa, MD

Doctor G (Deborah Gilboa, MD) of AskDoctorG.com empowers parents to raise respectful, responsible and resilient kids. Around the country and around the world, she works with parents to increase their knowledge and to use the parenting instincts they already have. Doctor G focuses on practical tools and teaching skills, not just dishing out advice.

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