While sibling rivalry is normal, there’s a lot parents can do to help turn that into sibling revelry.Remember that early conflict isn’t all bad; in fact, it can provide opportunities for parents to promote the life skill of Perspective Taking, or learning to see another person’s point of view. This skill is essential to relating to others and to reducing conflict.
goes far beyond empathy; it involves learning what others think and feel, and forms the basis for children’s understanding of the intentions of parents, teachers and friends. Children who can take others’ perspectives are also much less likely to get involved in conflicts.
Tips to build this skill:
Help your children learn to understand their sibling’s perspective by stepping back and asking questions.
Suggest to your children that they try to pause so they can try to imagine what their sibling might be experiencing.
- Step back. Before you get angry, try to stop and take a breath. When you feel yourself getting upset, say in your mind, STOP and PAUSE.
Ask questions, like:
- What’s annoying/bothering you?
- How are you feeling?
- What are you thinking?
Children can do this in private or they can directly ask each other.
Share your understanding.
Talk with your children and express what you see as each child’s experience in the disagreement. Often this type of communication goes best during a quiet one-on-onetime with each child. When you talk about your observations, be open to hearing what your child thinks of your view.
- Does it make sense to her?
- Does she have other ideas about what might be going on?
The important message for you and your children is to remember that not everyone experiences the same situation in the same way.
Use a problem-resolving process.
Larry Aber of New York University has studied the connection between Perspective Taking and aggression, and has found that children who can understand others have less of a need to strike or hurt others.
According to Aber, when you help teach your children how to gain perspective on a situation,“you’ve opened the gate to their using problem-solving skills.”
Just as with adults, when children create solutions on their own, they’re more likely to try to make them succeed. With your children:
- identify the dilemma, problem, or issue;
- determine the goal;
- create alternative solutions that might stop a fight or mediate a conflict;
- consider how each solution might work and discuss the pros and cons;
- agree on a solution to try; and
- evaluate the outcome, and if the solution isn’t working, try something else.
Through this process, you will help your kids get along better, and you’ll encourage problem solving and cooperation—vital skills for navigating the social world.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you set guidelines on how children can disagree and resolve conflicts. Have regular family meetings to express thoughts and feelings, plan the week’s events and provide positive recognition. Avoid taking sides on sibling conflicts and/or making comparisons between your children. Each child is unique and has different needs.
In the words of Daniel Stern, a pioneer in the field of child psychiatry, the process of growing up is “learning to BE (or get along) with others.”