Like most siblings, my kids fight. It drives me bananas. But I’ve learned to not mind it so much.
Just recently I overheard my son respond assertively and appropriately when a rather boisterous friend tried to railroad him (repeatedly) into blatantly disobeying a clear directive I’d given them.
Most of the time he’s pretty quiet, so I was proud of the way he handled himself. And I’m pretty sure he developed that skill when interacting with his rather…*ahem*…assertive sister.
So the vast majority of times my kids argue, I don’t step in. They need to learn to work things out between each other, and those skills will transfer to other relationships and even into adulthood. I know some moms strive to raise kids that don’t fight, but that’s not my goal right now. Because fighting between siblings is normal, and even healthy for their social development.
But even though I think fighting between siblings isn’t such a bad thing, there are two things that I won’t tolerate. Here’s when I intervene:
Teasing: If things cross over into teasing, name-calling, or the kids start saying things that feel mean-spirited, I have a zero tolerance policy. This includes those times when they’re all, “Hey, I got 7 pieces of candy at the birthday party and you only got 5.” *eyeroll*
These tactics are never productive in solving problems and begin to encroach on bullying territory. Their purpose is solely to annoy or agitate the other person; not to problem-solve. Bottom line: You can’t bully other kids, including your sibling.
When I hear things like this in my home I call my kids on it immediately because 1) no child should have to endure that behavior from another, and 2) it points out exactly what bullying behavior is. The kids know that bullying is wrong, but don’t always understand how subtle it can be. Bringing it to their attention forces them to see how easily they can end up bullying another child – even if they don’t necessarily think that’s what they’re doing.
Touching: Touching is my second non-negotiable reason for intervening in the kids’ arguments. While there’s generally no physical fighting in my house like punching or wrestling, it’s not uncommon to see my daughter grab my son’s shirt while he’s trying to escape to his room, or to have one child try to pry an object out of the hand of the other. Sometimes they annoy each other with the whole “I’m not touching you…I’m not touching you…” finger-right-in-front-of-their-face ridiculousness.
I tolerate none of it not only because it could escalate to a more physical confrontation, but because I want to teach my kids that nobody has the right to touch their body – or threaten to – if they don’t want it.
When I intervene in this circumstance, I try to reinforce this by saying something like, “Keep your hands to yourself. You never touch anybody without their permission. Your brother is saying ‘no.’ You respect his ‘no.’”
Pretty much everything else is fair game when my kids are arguing. Sometimes if they’re having trouble resolving things I’ll pipe up and remind them that they’re working toward a solution and that they need to “start over and be kind.” But most of the time I just let them go.
So far, it’s worked. My kids argue a fair amount, but they love each other when it matters – like when they’re each other’s biggest cheerleader at the Pinewood Derby, or one gets hurt and needs help. And as long as that keeps happening, I don’t think the arguing is doing them any harm.
In fact, I think it’s doing them plenty of real-life good.