Over the past year, we have spent more time together as a family at home. While some of this has been good, we have also seen conflict between our oldest boys, ages 4 and 6, increase. Sometimes conflict is caused by the youngest boy, age 2, destroying a fort or a Lego creation.
We have worked to let them solve problems by themselves, but this generally leads to a meltdown by one child, a verbal insult leading to hurt feelings, or a child getting physically hurt (like scratches and punches). We know these conflicts are two sided, but are finding these conflicts harder to ignore. In theory, we want to let the boys solve conflict on their own. In reality, leaving them to themselves seems to lead to more chaos.
We would love any suggestions on managing sibling conflict.
Do understand something: chaos ensues when there is a household involving three boys within two years of each other. It will be impossible for the parents to prevent the boys from getting hurt emotionally, and physically. And that's ok. Lighthearted wrestling matches will invariably happen, almost always ending with someone getting hurt. And that's ok, too. Allowance for some chaos is a great thing for boys. But let's at least organize the chaos a bit.
Here is one strategy that has been successful in dealing with brotherly combat, with the aim being to help your boys learn conflict resolution. This is a takeoff from a John Rosemond strategy.
First, post an index card on the refrigerator with these three sibling conflict rules and explain them to your children:
1. Don't disturb other family members with your conflicts. Keep them to yourselves.
2. NEVER ever get physical with one other.
3. Do not complain/tattle to Mom or Dad about each other.
And as far as you are concerned, Mom, try to avoid being the judge or referee in all conflicts between siblings. Let them figure it out. I do understand that there are occasions when things get extreme; or maybe ridiculously one-sided. But make your interventions rare.
Second, create a Peace-Keeping Place. Whenever there is a violation of any of the three sibling conflict rules, each child will want to rush to you and explain his/her side of the story, so each offender can claim Victimhood. Do not listen, and instead send them to a Peace-Keeping Place. Just calmly say "we can discuss this later" and walk away, as they head to their special place. This Peace-Keeping Place should be a small utility closet or laundry room, etc., devoid of any items that could cause physically harm if used improperly. Anything of entertainment value should be removed as well. A mostly barren room is a good PKP. Have them set an alarm clock for 10-30 minutes--or whatever amount you think is appropriate. During this time, they need to resolve the conflict. They must stay in the room until the alarm sounds, regardless of whether they have resolved the issue or not. If they still have not resolved the issue(which is highly unlikely) add another ten minutes or so. When their time is up, you could possibly assign 1 or more of them an extra chore or an additional consequence as well, depending upon the level of offense--be creative. Maybe have each write an apology letter to the other. Or have them all do the dishes together and sweep the floor, etc--which might prove interesting; yet very beneficial for you in the long run. Or maybe no additional consequence is needed.
A few addenda: You can even put just 1 or 2 in the PKP, depending on the situation. Also, If you sense one of the children is more guilty than the other(s), maybe a longer sentence for that individual alone in the PKP would work. Also, if one of them leave the PKP to go to the restroom, get a drink, etc., the clock stops and doesn't resume until he is back in the room. In addition, when they are initially told to go to the PKP, kids like to be a bit defiant, and dilly-dally. Give them 60 seconds to get to the room. If they don't get there in time, you can add a few minutes to their sentence. But always remain relaxed and calm; and make a vow to yourself to no longer micromanage conflicts.
Additional option: Tell the boys that certain rooms in the house are rooms of quiet. Wrestling, loud talking or screen noises,etc., are not allowed in those designated Rooms of Quiet. This is designed to help you keep your sanity!
Another option: THE GREAT OUTDOORS..... If your backyard allows the boys to go outdoors, throw the boys outside and lock the door behind them!(make sure they hit the lavatory first-ha!)...There is a lot more room to play outside, typically, as compared to inside. Early on they may try to come back in for this reason or that. Ignore and let them go enjoy the Great Outdoors! Call it a Nature Playdate. Weather should not matter unless there is thunder and lightning. Great way to wear down boys and let them be creative and burn off energy. An hour or two is not too long. Best of all, you get some peace!
When these ideas/strategies are employed and modified to fit your household, they work well. But these are strategies, designed to work for different stages in your boys' lives. The key is YOU: Do you respond to their nagging and complaining and tantrums? Do you cave because you are worried about their self-esteem? Are you constantly fretting about crushing their spirit? Or are you a firm, loving parent with solid boundaries for you children?
Prayer is another good resource, by the way :)
For further details regarding sibling conflict strategies, see the "Well-Behaved Child" by John Rosemond, or contact me at
Mike Smart, CLPC
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