Point out a touching moment.
Dr. Hellner emphasizes the "powerful impact" of taking time to observe and point out a positive interaction between siblings. The trick is not to turn the kids off by making a huge fuss, says Dr. Hellner. Something as simple as saying, "When I try to get your brother to eat broccoli, he never listens, but you can always get him to eat new things when you try," spotlights how the children influence one another in a positive way that promotes good-will without prompting a negative reaction to the comment.
Put new spins on jealousy and the "not fair" syndrome.
Not all sibling squabbles are created equal. Dr. Hellner says that children often direct their anger toward their siblings in place of the person or object that actually caused the anger. She offers the example of one child lashing out at her sibling after the sibling spent special alone time with a parent. Because children want their parents' love for themselves but don't want to be angry with their parents, they may misdirect their frustrations. Thwart any potential blow-ups by encouraging children to correctly direct their feelings of hurt or anger.
Dr. Hellner also suggests the sanity-saving tip of ending the cycle of feeling compelled to make things fair. Because life isn't necessarily fair, teaching children not to react negatively to a situation in which only one sibling receives a gift or goodie bag helps short-circuit fighting. According to Dr. Hellner, parents should remind children that the situation is not permanent and bring up a time when the disappointed sibling was the sole recipient of a special treat.
Remember that occasionally, kids will be kids.
While Dr. Hellner says she "errs toward intervention" in sibling fights, varying circumstances should dictate how parents react. "If it is two young kids or there is a significant age difference, I would step in more readily," says Dr. Hellner. As the children get older, however, the responsibility should fall on them to resolve the arguments themselves. While name-calling and physical fighting should never be tolerated, consider the children and whether they are capable of navigating the situation sans help. "Sometimes kids will be kids," says Dr. Hellner. "Parents should be there to enforce the basic rules of civility."
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