What Should you do when your kids are bickering

What Should you do when your kids are bickering

When our two grown-up sons were in elementary school, my wife and I despaired of their ever getting along. Bickering, insults, mutual recrimination and, at times, physical altercations were the order of the day. The seemingly incessant squabbling went on for years. Our older son in particular appeared determined to make his brother’s life utterly miserable.

We made the same two mistakes many other parents fall into when they see their kids at odds with one another. First, we projected our children’s behaviour into the future, believing that these patterns would inevitably persist unless we nipped the fraternal hostility in the bud. Second, we focused on the behaviours, attempting to root them out by means of cajoling, lecturing, threats and, finally, punishments. We were triggered into acting in ways we later regretted. It’s in the nature of sibling conflict to bring out the deepest anxieties and least adaptive responses in the parent.

If the Bible is a guide, sibling conflict is as old as mankind. Of the very first two human beings born of a mother, the older killed the younger. The Cain-Abel story, says a philosophical character in John Steinbeck’s great novel East of Eden, “is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul.” Steinbeck points at the essence of sibling rivalry– the resentment of having to share parental love and attention with an unwelcome intruder and, ultimately, the fear of being rejected in favour of another. “The greatest terror a child can have,” he writes, “is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge…”

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