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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Handling sibling rivalry

11th January 2012
Things can get tough when your children start fighting over something and stop talking to each other.

From time immemorial loving and sharing, fighting and competing, grabbing and teasing, tattling and keeping secrets, agreeing and disagreeing, playing and hiding from one another have existed between brothers and sisters. The bible mythology, fairy tales, songs, dances, and drams all illustrate the universality of the harmony, rivalries and tensions that exist between siblings.

This can be understood if it happens among young children but things can get tough when your children who are also parents in their own rights start fighting over something and stop talking to each other.

How then as a parent will you handle such a scenario/this might sound funny but I have a real scenario whereby two of my uncles disagreed over something and the battle became so big that it involved their wives, children and other relatives to some extent.

For instance if you had a gathering, once one learnt the other is attending, they wouldn’t. Or they would both attend but there would be so much tension and friction to the extent that it ended up disturbing other parties.

Maybe we better trace back such problems to childhood. Children should learn to deal with sibling rivalry at an early age lest that might disturb them in their adult life.

It is hard for each child to understand that he/she has to share the attention of parents. Even an only child will have problems sharing the attention of his mother with his father or sharing the attention of his father with his mother.

Don’t be surprised when your children display this sense of selfishness. All you need to do is teach them that there is need for them to share your love and that they are equally important to you. The sooner you do this the better because if you let them grow with that feeling, it might lead to lifelong hatred.

Quite often you might realise that your children start fighting over petty issues. It could be the remote control. They might fight over which television channel to view, whether to switch the fan on or not, the list is endless. The situation is worse off if they are boys. I cannot tell you how my two boys behave, one minute they are fighting the next minute they playing peacefully.

What do you do then as a parent? The best thing to do is stay out of it and let them solve their disputes. Many parents feel it is their right to intervene and solve the problem. The truth however, is that you will actually make the situation worse by intervening. Just stay out of it as long as they don’t hurt each other. Give them a room to solve their dispute if you can and you will realise that it works.

Don’t entertain them at all. One might come to you complaining imploring on you to intervene. Never do that, just tell him to go and sort it out with his brother or sister. “Musa, I understand how you feel but please go and sort it out with your brother I am sure you can reach an agreement if you both talk about it,” I have found myself saying that statement often and believe me it works.

Children can be tricky at times. You know they might give you a tough time trying to establish who did what. For instance, you might have a broken window etc but no one owns up.

Don’t bother yourself trying to establish who messed up if they are up to protect each other. Just put them in the same boat. Punish the innocent and guilty alike, that way they will get to know that they are interdependent and take care of one another. If one wants to go astray they will help bring him back on track.

Another way of solving these minor squabbles and constant fights is putting them to task. Get them to do something productive if you see that they are constantly fighting. That way they will use their energy constructively and reduce emotional toil.

Get them to wash some dishes, clean the car, any constructive task.

Another solution worth trying is asking them to put in writing what happened and explain the part they played in the fight. This is quite tricky and it will allow them to release all their emotions as they write but will also give you the chance to see who is emotionally charged and who is not for the emotionally charged one will tend to write a lengthy explanation paying particular attention to detail. He will include all the nitty-gritties and will be very bitter about the whole ordeal.

On the other hand the one who is not very emotional will be brief and to the point, including only those things that are important. That can help giving you a starting point on how to solve the dispute and bring harmony between the feuding siblings.

All in all, it is important for us as parents to ensure that these squabbles do not grow into adulthood. It is natural for siblings to argue, fight and quarrel but it shouldn’t be too much and they should be able to solve their squabbles without harbouring any bitterness.

We should avoid taking sides and always be fair in dealing with our children if at all we want them to maintain a loving relationship throughout their lives. We should start fostering this at an early age.

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