- May 23, 2012
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The concept of Sibling Rivalry and fighting is nothing new. Being number three out of four children, I often was on the receiving end of it but then again, I could definitely hold my own and dish it out as well. It builds resilience, teaches socialization skills, and other lessons kids will use throughout their life. So, hearing my four children argue is nothing new. As long as it doesn’t get deeply mean or physical, I let them work it out on their own. But what do you do when they do resort to physical violence? For me, this is definitely my cue to intervene. There are a lot of reasons why children may fight but often the theme is generally the same- one child teases another to the point where the second child has had enough and lashes out.
In this scenario, my younger daughter began to cry, scream and hit the older one after being teased relentlessly.
The one thing that gets to me the most, is hearing the psychological mind games (i.e., Trash Talking) that takes place sometimes in our home. My children all have such different personalities –it’s sometimes hard for me to believe they came from the same set of parents. Here’s how it usually unfolds: My oldest daughter (11 years-old) who tends to be extroverted and more dominant will relentlessly tease my younger daughter (9 years-old) who is more introverted and reserved. They are talented, intelligent, and very competitive. So when they play board games, sports, or pretty much any activity, often my older one tries to mess with the younger one’s head. Basically, telling her that she is either “going to lose” or say anything to distract her and get her mind out of the game. It seems like she enjoys watching her younger sister’s reaction more than playing the game itself. Eventually it usually leads to my younger one crying and losing her cool – sometimes getting so frustrated that she lashes out verbally and resorts to hitting. It’s not just an age thing because my younger son, who’s five, does the same thing to my older son, who’s 7. So, I’m pretty convinced it’s more related to their personality.
They are wrong for teasing and treating others poorly so why reward them with giving them control over your behavior?
After separating both parties I sit and talk to them while the issue is still hot. Talking to the “trash talker” is generally quicker. I just tell him/her that it’s not acceptable to mess with or tease other people. I explain that it’s wrong, hurtful, and not something they would want done to them. On the other hand, talking to the “Hitter” is sometimes more complicated. In this scenario, my younger daughter began to cry, scream and hit the older one after being teased relentlessly. My approach was to have her hear me reprimand my older daughter but then I wanted to give my younger one more control and responsibility over her behavior. I explained that her hands are her responsibility and that unfortunately she does not have control over the people around her. I continued to explain that often people will try to get her to react in order to “throw her off her game.” The classic bully (See our Playdate article Coping with Bullies) move is to pick on someone who is fun to pick on- who has big reactions- and when the ‘victim’ stops reacting it gets boring and the bully moves on to someone else. I asked her to name someone famous who she respected and she responded Selena Gomez (go figure!). I explained that because she was famous, often others might be jealous and therefore try to do things to get her to react so they can be in the limelight as well. The key is for her to realize that her skills and her ability to control her reactions are what set her apart from other people. My younger daughter seemed to respond well to this and realized that others, who may enjoy seeing her get “worked up”, will eventually stop if they do not get her to react. They are wrong for teasing and treating others poorly so why reward them with giving them control over your behavior? She expressed that knowing this gave her confidence to maintain her composure in the future.
Since the last outburst she has been doing much better at acting like the teasing doesn’t bother her, when it still happens. I’m hoping the “Trash Talker” has mellowed out a bit as well. Not perfect, but progress. Either way, I’d rather have them struggle to work this out now then for it to be a problem later on down the road. What has worked for you?